The Monster Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs - HTML preview
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Chapter 9. Into Savage Borneo
Von Horn cursed the chance that had snatched the girl from him, but he tried to content himself with the thought that the treasure probably still rested in the cabin of the Ithaca, where Bududreen was to have deposited it. He wished that the Dyaks would take themselves off so that he could board the vessel and carry the chest ashore to bury it against the time that fate should provide a means for transporting it to Singapore.
In the water below him floated the Ithaca's masts, their grisly burdens still lashed to their wave swept sides. Bududreen lay there, his contorted features set in a horrible grimace of death which grinned up at the man he would have cheated, as though conscious of the fact that the white man would have betrayed him had the opportunity come, the while he enjoyed in anticipation the other's disappointment in the loss of both the girl and the treasure.
The tide was rising now, and presently the Ithaca began to float. No sooner was it apparent that she was free than the Dyaks sprang into the water and swam to her side. Like monkeys they scrambled aboard, swarming below deck in search, thought von Horn, of pillage. He prayed that they would not discover the chest.
Presently a half dozen of them leaped overboard and swam to the mass of tangled spars and rigging which littered the beach. Selecting what they wished they returned to the vessel, and a few minutes later von Horn was chagrined to see them stepping a jury mast
- he thought the treasure lay in the Ithaca's cabin.
Before dark the vessel moved slowly out of the harbor, setting a course across the strait in the direction that the war prahus had taken. When it was apparent that there was no danger that the head hunters would return, the lascar came from his hiding place, and dancing up and down upon the shore screamed warlike challenges and taunts at the retreating enemy.
Von Horn also came forth, much to the sailor's surprise, and in silence the two stood watching the disappearing ship. At length they turned and made their way up the stream toward camp--there was no longer aught to fear there. Von Horn wondered if the creatures he had loosed upon Professor Maxon had done their work before they left, or if they had all turned to mush as had Number Thirteen.
Once at the encampment his questions were answered, for he saw a light in the bungalow, and as he mounted the steps there were Sing and Professor Maxon just coming from the living room."Von Horn!" exclaimed the professor. "You, then, are not dead; but where is Virginia?
Tell me that she is safe."
"She has been carried away" was the startling answer. "Your creatures, under the thing you wished to marry her to, have taken her to Borneo with a band of Malay and Dyak pirates. I was alone and could do nothing to prevent them."
"I was mad," retorted the professor. "Could you not see that I was mad? Oh, why did you not stop me? You were sane enough. You at least might have forced me to abandon the insane obsession which has overpowered my reason for all these terrible months. I am sane now, but it is too late--too late."
"Both you and your daughter could only have interpreted any such action on my part as instigated by self- interest, for you both knew that I wanted to make her my wife," replied the other. "My hands were tied. I am sorry now that I did not act, but you can readily see the position in which I was placed."
"Can nothing be done to get her back?" cried the father. "There must be some way to save her. Do it von Horn, and not only is my daughter yours but my wealth as well-- every thing that I possess shall be yours if you will but save her from those frightful creatures."
"The Ithaca is gone, too," replied the doctor. "There is only a small boat that I hid in the jungle for some such emergency. It will carry us to Borneo, but what can we four do against five hundred pirates and the dozen monsters you have brought into the world? No, Professor Maxon, I fear there is little hope, though I am willing to give my life in an attempt to save Virginia. You will not forget your promise should we succeed?""No, doctor," replied the old man. "I swear that you shall have Virginia as your wife, and all my property shall be made over to you if she is rescued."
Sing Lee had been a silent listener to this strange conversation. An odd look came into his slant eyes as he heard von Horn exact a confirmation from the professor, but what passed in his shrewd mind only he could say.
It was too late to attempt to make a start that day for Borneo, as darkness had already fallen. Professor Maxon and von Horn walked over to the workshop and the inner campong to ascertain what damage had been done there.
On their return Sing was setting the table on the verandah for the evening meal. The two men were talking, and without making his presence noticeable the Chinaman hovered about ever within ear shot.
"I cannot make it out, von Horn," Professor Maxon was saying. "Not a board broken, and the doors both apparently opened intentionally by someone familiar with locks and bolts. Who could have done it?"
"Bosh, my dear man," replied Professor Maxon. "He knew nothing of treasures, or money, or the need or value of either. I tell you the workshop was opened, and the inner campong as well by some one who knew the value of money and wanted that chest, but why they should have released the creatures from the inner enclosure is beyond me."
"And I tell you Professor Maxon that it could have been none other than Number Thirteen," insisted von Horn. "Did I not myself see him leading his eleven monsters as easily as a captain commands his company? The fellow is brighter than we have imagined. He has learned much from us both, he has reasoned, and he has shrewdly guessed many things that he could not have known through experience.""But his object?" asked the professor.
"That is simple," returned von Horn. "You have held out hopes to him that soon he should come to live under your roof with Virginia. The creature has been madly infatuated with her ever since the day he took her from Number One, and you have encouraged his infatuation until yesterday. Then you regained your sanity and put him in his rightful place. What is the result? Denied the easy prey he expected he immediately decided to take it by force, and with that end in view, and taking advantage of the series of remarkable circumstances which played into his hands, he liberated his fellows, and with them hastened to the beach in search of Virginia and in hopes of being able to fly with her upon the Ithaca. There he met the Malay pirates, and together they formed an alliance under terms of which Number Thirteen is to have the girl, and the pirates the chest in return for transporting him and his crew to Borneo. Why it is all perfectly simple and logical, Professor Maxon; do you not see it now?"
"You may be right, doctor," answered the old man. "But it is idle to conjecture. Tomorrow we can be up and doing, so let us get what sleep we can tonight. We shall need all our energies if we are to save my poor, dear girl, from the clutches of that horrid, soulless thing."
At the very moment that he spoke the object of his contumely was entering the dark mouth of a broad river that flowed from out of the heart of savage Borneo. In the prahu with him his eleven hideous companions now bent to their paddles with slightly increased efficiency. Before them the leader saw a fire blazing upon a tiny island in the center of the stream. Toward this they turned their silent way. Grimly the war prahu with its frightful freight nosed closer to the bank.
At last Number Thirteen made out the figures of men about the fire, and as they came still closer he was sure that they were members of the very party he had been pursuing across the broad waters for hours. The prahus were drawn up upon the bank and the warriors were preparing to eat.
Just as the young giants' prahu came within the circle of firelight a swarthy Malay approached the fire, dragging a white girl roughly by the arm. No more was needed to convince Number Thirteen of the identity of the party. With a low command to his fellows he urged them to redoubled speed. At the same instant a Dyak warrior caught sight of the approaching boat as it sped into the full glare of the light.
At sight of the occupants the head hunters scattered for their own prahus. The frightful aspect of the enemy turned their savage hearts to water, leaving no fight in their ordinarily warlike souls.
So quickly they moved that as the pursuing prahu touched the bank all the nearer boats had been launched, and the remaining pirates were scurrying across the little island for those which lay upon the opposite side. Among these was the Malay who guarded the girl, but he had not been quick enough to prevent Virginia Maxon recognizing the stalwart figure standing in the bow of the oncoming craft.As he dragged her away toward the prahu of Muda Saffir she cried out to the strange white man who seemed her self-appointed protector.
"Help! Help!" she called. "This way! Across the island!" And then the brown hand of her jailer closed over her mouth. Like a tigress she fought to free herself, or to detain her captor until the rescue party should catch up with them, but the scoundrel was muscled like a bull, and when the girl held back he lifted her across his shoulder and broke into a run.
Rajah Muda Saffir had no stomach for a fight himself, but he was loathe to lose the prize he had but just won, and seeing that his men were panic-stricken he saw no alternative but to rally them for a brief stand that would give the little moment required to slip away in his own prahu with the girl.
Calling aloud for those around him to come to his support he halted fifty yards from his boat just as Number Thirteen with his fierce, brainless horde swept up from the opposite side of the island in the wake of him who bore Virginia Maxon. The old rajah succeeded in gathering some fifty warriors about him from the crews of the two boats which lay near his. His own men he hastened to their posts in his prahu that they might be ready to pull swiftly away the moment that he and the captive were aboard.
The Dyak warriors presented an awe inspiring spectacle in the fitful light of the nearby camp fire. The ferocity of their fierce faces was accentuated by the upturned, bristling tiger cat's teeth which protruded from every ear; while the long feathers of the Argus pheasant waving from their war-caps, the brilliant colors of their war-coats trimmed with the black and white feathers of the hornbill, and the strange devices upon their gaudy shields but added to the savagery of their appearance as they danced and howled, menacing and intimidating, in the path of the charging foe.
A single backward glance was all that Virginia Maxon found it possible to throw in the direction of the rescue party, and in that she saw a sight that lived forever in her memory. At the head of his hideous, misshapen pack sprang the stalwart young giant straight into the heart of the flashing parangs of the howling savages. To right and left fell the mighty bull whip cutting down men with all the force and dispatch of a steel saber. The Dyaks, encouraged by the presence of Muda Saffir in their rear, held their ground; and the infuriated, brainless things that followed the wielder of the bull whip threw themselves upon the head hunters with beating hands and rending fangs.
Number Ten wrested a parang from an adversary, and acting upon his example the other creatures were not long in arming themselves in a similar manner. Cutting and jabbing they hewed their way through the solid ranks of the enemy, until Muda Saffir, seeing that defeat was inevitable turned and fled toward his prahu.
Four of his creatures lay dead as the last of the Dyaks turned to escape from the mad white man who faced naked steel with only a rawhide whip. In panic the head hunters made a wild dash for the two remaining prahus, for Muda Saffir had succeeded in getting away from the island in safety.
Number Thirteen reached the water's edge but a moment after the prow of the rajah's craft had cleared the shore and was swinging up stream under the vigorous strokes of its fifty oarsmen. For an instant he stood poised upon the bank as though to spring after the retreating prahu, but the knowledge that he could not swim held him back--it was useless to throw away his life when the need of it was so great if Virginia Maxon was to be saved.
Turning to the other prahus he saw that one was already launched, but that the crew of the other was engaged in a desperate battle with the seven remaining members of his crew for possession of the boat. Leaping among the combatants he urged his fellows aboard the prahu which was already half filled with Dyaks. Then he shoved the boat out into the river, jumping aboard himself as its prow cleared the gravelly beach.
For several minutes that long, hollowed log was a veritable floating hell of savage, screaming men locked in deadly battle. The sharp parangs of the head hunters were no match for the superhuman muscles of the creatures that battered them about; now lifting one high above his fellows and using the body as a club to beat down those nearby; again snapping an arm or leg as one might break a pipe stem; or hurling a living antagonist headlong above the heads of his fellows to the dark waters of the river. And above them all in the thickest of the fight, towering even above his own giants, rose the mighty figure of the terrible white man, whose very presence wrought havoc with the valor of the brown warriors.
Two more of Number Thirteen's creatures had been cut down in the prahu, but the loss among the Dyaks had been infinitely greater, and to it was now added the desertions of the terror stricken savages who seemed to fear the frightful countenances of their adversaries even as much as they did their prowess.
There remained but a handful of brown warriors in one end of the boat when the advantage of utilizing their knowledge of the river and of navigation occurred to Number Thirteen. Calling to his men he commanded them to cease killing, making prisoners of those who remained instead. So accustomed had his pack now become to receiving and acting upon his orders that they changed their tactics immediately, and one by one the remaining Dyaks were overpowered, disarmed and held.
With difficulty Number Thirteen communicated with them, for among them there was but a single warrior who had ever had intercourse with an Englishman, but at last by means of signs and the few words that were common to them both he made the native understand that he would spare the lives of himself and his companions if they would help him in pursuit of Muda Saffir and the girl.
The Dyaks felt but little loyalty for the rascally Malay they served, since in common with all their kind they and theirs had suffered for generations at the hands of the cruel, crafty and unscrupulous race that had usurped the administration of their land. So it was not difficult to secure from them the promise of assistance in return for their lives.
Number Thirteen noticed that when they addressed him it was always as Bulan, and upon questioning them he discovered that they had given him this title of honor partly in view of his wonderful fighting ability and partly because the sight of his white face emerging from out of the darkness of the river into the firelight of their blazing camp fire had carried to their impressionable minds a suggestion of the tropic moon which they admired and reverenced. Both the name and the idea appealed to Number Thirteen and from that time he adopted Bulan as his rightful cognomen.
The loss of time resulting from the fight in the prahu and the ensuing peace parley permitted Muda Saffir to put considerable distance between himself and his pursuers. The Malay's boat was now alone, for of the eight prahus that remained of the original fleet it was the only one which had taken this branch of the river, the others having scurried into a smaller southerly arm after the fight upon the island, that they might the more easily escape their hideous foemen.
Only Barunda, the headman, knew which channel Rajah Muda Saffir intended following, and Muda wondered why it was that the two boats that were to have borne Barunda's men did not catch up with his. While he had left Barunda and his warriors engaged in battle with the strangers he did not for an instant imagine that they would suffer any severe loss, and that one of their boats should be captured was beyond belief. But this was precisely what had happened, and the second boat, seeing the direction taken by the enemy, had turned down stream the more surely to escape them.
So it was that while Rajah Muda Saffir moved leisurely up the river toward his distant stronghold waiting for the other boats of his fleet to overtake him, Barunda, the headman, guided the white enemy swiftly after him. Barunda had discovered that it was the girl alone this white man wanted. Evidently he either knew nothing of the treasure chest lying in the bottom of Muda Saffir's boat, or, knowing, was indifferent. In either event Barunda thought that he saw a chance to possess himself of the rich contents of the heavy box, and so served his new master with much greater enthusiasm than he had the old.
Beneath the paddles of the natives and the five remaining members of his pack Bulan sped up the dark river after the single prahu with its priceless freight. Already six of the creatures of Professor Maxon's experiments had given up their lives in the service of his daughter, and the remaining six were pushing forward through the inky blackness of the jungle night into the untracked heart of savage Borneo to rescue her from her abductors though they sacrificed their own lives in the endeavor.
Far ahead of them in the bottom of the great prahu crouched the girl they sought. Her thoughts were of the man she felt intuitively to possess the strength, endurance and ability to overcome every obstacle and reach her at last. Would he come in time? Ah, that was the question. The mystery of the stranger appealed to her. A thousand times she had attempted to solve the question of his first appearance on the island at the very moment that his mighty muscles were needed to rescue her from the horrible creature of her father's creation. Then there was his unaccountable disappearance for weeks; there was von Horn's strange reticence and seeming ignorance as to the circumstances which brought the young man to the island, or his equally unaccountable disappearance after having rescued her from Number One. And now, when she suddenly found herself in need of protection, here was the same young man turning up in a most miraculous fashion, and at the head of the terrible creatures of the inner campong.
The riddle was too deep for her--she could not solve it; and then her thoughts were interrupted by the thin, brown hand of Rajah Muda Saffir as it encircled her waist and drew her toward him. Upon the evil lips were hot words of passion. The girl wrenched herself from the man's embrace, and, with a little scream of terror, sprang to her feet, and as Muda Saffir arose to grasp her again she struck him full in the face with one small, clenched fist.
Directly behind the Malay lay the heavy chest of Professor Maxon. As the man stepped backward to recover his equilibrium both feet struck the obstacle. For an instant he tottered with wildly waving arms in an endeavor to regain his lost balance, then, with a curse upon his lips, he lunged across the box and over the side of the prahu into the dark waters of the river.
Chapter 10. Desperate Chance
The great chest in the bottom of Rajah Muda Saffir's prahu had awakened in other hearts as well as his, blind greed and avarice; so that as it had been the indirect cause of his disaster it now proved the incentive to another to turn the mishap to his own profit, and to the final undoing of the Malay.
The panglima Ninaka of the Signana Dyaks who manned Muda Saffir's war prahu saw his chief disappear beneath the swift waters of the river, but the word of command that would have sent the boat hurriedly back to pick up the swimmer was not given. Instead a lusty cry for greater speed ahead urged the sinuous muscles gliding beneath the sleek brown hides; and when Muda Saffir rose to the surface with a cry for help upon his lips Ninaka shouted back to him in derision, consigning his carcass to the belly of the nearest crocodile.
In futile rage Muda Saffir called down the most terrible curses of Allah and his Prophet upon the head of Ninaka and his progeny to the fifth generation, and upon the shades of his forefathers, and upon the grim skulls which hung from the rafters of his long-house. Then he turned and swam rapidly toward the shore.
Ninaka, now in possession of both the chest and the girl, was rich indeed, but with Muda Saffir dead he scarce knew to whom he could dispose of the white girl for a price that would make it worth while to be burdened with the danger and responsibility of retaining her. He had had some experience of white men in the past and knew that dire were the punishments meted to those who wronged the white man's women. All through the remainder of the long night Ninaka pondered the question deeply. At last he turned to Virginia."Why does the big white man who leads the ourang outangs follow us?" he asked. "Is it the chest he desires, or you?" "It is certainly not the chest," replied the girl. "He wishes to take me back to my father, that is all. If you will return me to him you may keep the chest, if that is what you wish."
Ninaka looked at her quizzically for a moment. Evidently then she was of some value. Possibly should he retain her he could wring a handsome ransom from the white man. He would wait and see, it were always an easy matter to rid himself of her should circumstances require. The river was there, deep, dark and silent, and he could place the responsibility for her loss upon Muda Saffir.
Shortly after day break Ninaka beached his prahu before the long-house of a peaceful river tribe. The chest he hid in the underbrush close by his boat, and with the girl ascended the notched log that led to the verandah of the structure, which, stretching away for three hundred yards upon its tall piles, resembled a huge centipede.
The dwellers in the long-house extended every courtesy to Ninaka and his crew. At the former's request Virginia was hidden away in a dark sleeping closet in one of the windowless living rooms which opened along the verandah for the full length of the house. Here a native girl brought her food and water, sitting, while she ate, in rapt contemplation of the white skin and golden hair of the strange female.
At about the time that Ninaka pulled his prahu upon the beach before the long-house, Muda Saffir from the safety of the concealing underbrush upon the shore saw a familiar war prahu forging rapidly up the stream. As it approached him he was about to call aloud to those who manned it, for in the bow he saw a number of his own men; but a second glance as the boat came opposite him caused him to alter his intention and drop further into the engulfing verdure, for behind his men squatted five of the terrible monsters that had wrought such havoc with his expedition, and in the stern he saw his own Barunda in friendly converse with the mad white man who had led them.
As the boat disappeared about a bend in the river Rajah Muda Saffir arose, shaking his fist in the direction it had vanished and, cursing anew and volubly, damned each separate hair in the heads of the faithless Barunda and the traitorous Ninaka. Then he resumed his watch for the friendly prahu, or smaller sampan which he knew time would eventually bring from up or down the river to his rescue, for who of the surrounding natives would dare refuse succor to the powerful Rajah of Sakkan!
At the long-house which harbored Ninaka and his crew, Barunda and Bulan stopped with theirs to obtain food and rest. The quick eye of the Dyak chieftain recognized the prahu of Rajah Muda Saffir where it lay upon the beach, but he said nothing to his white companion of what it augured--it might be well to discover how the land lay before he committed himself too deeply to either faction.
At the top of the notched log he was met by Ninaka, who, with horror-wide eyes, looked down upon the fearsome monstrosities that lumbered awkwardly up the rude ladder in the wake of the agile Dyaks and the young white giant."What does it mean?" whispered the panglima to Barunda. "These are now my friends," replied Barunda. "Where is Muda Saffir?" Ninaka jerked his thumb toward the river. "Some crocodile has feasted well," he said significantly. Barunda smiled. "And the girl?" he continued. "And the treasure?" Ninaka's eyes narrowed. "They are safe," he answered.
"The white man wants the girl," remarked Barunda. "He does not suspect that you are one of Muda Saffir's people. If he guessed that you knew the whereabouts of the girl he would torture the truth from you and then kill you. He does not care for the treasure. There is enough in that great chest for two, Ninaka. Let us be friends. Together we can divide it; otherwise neither of us will get any of it. What do you say, Ninaka?"
The panglima scowled. He did not relish the idea of sharing his prize, but he was shrewd enough to realize that Barunda possessed the power to rob him of it all, so at last he acquiesced, though with poor grace.Bulan had stood near during this conversation, unable, of course, to understand a single word of the native tongue. "What does the man say?" he asked Barunda. "Has he seen anything of the prahu bearing the girl?"
"Yes," replied the Dyak. "He says that two hours ago such a war prahu passed on its way up river--he saw the white girl plainly. Also he knows whither they are bound, and how, by crossing through the jungle on foot, you may intercept them at their next stop."
Bulan, suspecting no treachery, was all anxiety to be off at once. Barunda suggested that in case of some possible emergency causing the quarry to return down the river it would be well to have a force remain at the long-house to intercept them. He volunteered to undertake the command of this party. Ninaka, he said, would furnish guides to escort Bulan and his men through the jungle to the point at which they might expect to find Muda Saffir.
And so, with the girl he sought lying within fifty feet of him, Bulan started off through the jungle with two of Ninaka's Dyaks as guides--guides who had been well instructed by their panglima as to their duties. Twisting and turning through the dense maze of underbrush and close-growing, lofty trees the little party of eight plunged farther and farther into the bewildering labyrinth.
For hours the tiresome march was continued, until at last the guides halted, apparently to consult each other as to the proper direction. By signs they made known to Bulan that they did not agree upon the right course to pursue from there on, and that they had decided that it would be best for each to advance a little way in the direction he thought the right one while Bulan and his five creatures remained where they were."We will go but a little way," said the spokesman, "and then we shall return and lead you in the proper direction."
Bulan saw no harm in this, and without a shade of suspicion sat down upon a fallen tree and watched his two guides disappear into the jungle in opposite directions. Once out of sight of the white man the two turned back and met a short distance in the rear of the party they had deserted--in another moment they were headed for the long-house from which they had started.
It was fully an hour thereafter that doubts began to enter Bulan's head, and as the day dragged on he came to realize that he and his weird pack were alone and lost in the heart of a strange and tangled web of tropical jungle.
No sooner had Bulan and his party disappeared in the jungle than Barunda and Ninaka made haste to embark with the chest and the girl and push rapidly on up the river toward the wild and inaccessible regions of the interior. Virginia Maxon's strong hope of succor had been gradually waning as no sign of the rescue party appeared as the day wore on. Somewhere behind her upon the broad river she was sure a long, narrow native prahu was being urged forward in pursuit, and that in command of it was the young giant who was now never for a moment absent from her thoughts.
For hours she strained her eyes over the stern of the craft that was bearing her deeper and deeper into the wild heart of fierce Borneo. On either shore they occasionally passed a native long-house, and the girl could not help but wonder at the quiet and peace which reigned over these little settlements. It was as though they were passing along a beaten highway in the center of a civilized community; and yet she knew that the men who lolled upon the verandahs, puffing indolently upon their cigarettes or chewing betel nut, were all head hunters, and that along the verandah rafters above them hung the grisly trophies of their prowess.
Yet as she glanced from them to her new captors she could not but feel that she would prefer captivity in one of the settlements they were passing--there at least she might find an opportunity to communicate with her father, or be discovered by the rescue party as it came up the river. The idea grew upon her as the day advanced until she spent the time in watching furtively for some means of escape should they but touch the shore momentarily; and though they halted twice her captors were too watchful to permit her the slightest opportunity for putting her plan into action.
Barunda and Ninaka urged their men on, with brief rests, all day, nor did they halt even after night had closed down upon the river. On, on the swift prahu sped up the winding channel which had now dwindled to a narrow stream, at intervals rushing strongly between rocky walls with a current that tested the strength of the strong, brown paddlers.
Long-houses had become more and more infrequent until for some time now no sign of human habitation had been visible. The jungle undergrowth was scantier and the spaces between the boles of the forest trees more open. Virginia Maxon was almost frantic with despair as the utter helplessness of her position grew upon her. Each stroke of those slender paddles was driving her farther and farther from friends, or the possibility of rescue. Night had fallen, dark and impenetrable, and with it had come the haunting fears that creep in when the sun has deserted his guardian post.
Barunda and Ninaka were whispering together in low gutturals, and to the girl's distorted and fear excited imagination it seemed possible that she alone must be the subject of their plotting. The prahu was gliding through a stretch of comparatively quiet and placid water where the stream spread out into a little basin just above a narrow gorge through which they had just forced their way by dint of the most laborious exertions on the part of the crew.
Virginia watched the two men near her furtively. They were deeply engrossed in their conversation. Neither was looking in her direction. The backs of the paddlers were all toward her. Stealthily she rose to a stooping position at the boat's side. For a moment she paused, and then, almost noiselessly, dove overboard and disappeared beneath the black waters.
It was the slight rocking of the prahu that caused Barunda to look suddenly about to discover the reason for the disturbance. For a moment neither of the men apprehended the girl's absence. Ninaka was the first to do so, and it was he who called loudly to the paddlers to bring the boat to a stop. Then they dropped down the river with the current, and paddled about above the gorge for half an hour.
The moment that Virginia Maxon felt the waters close above her head she struck out beneath the surface for the shore upon the opposite side to that toward which she had dived into the river. She knew that if any had seen her leave the prahu they would naturally expect to intercept her on her way toward the nearest shore, and so she took this means of outwitting them, although it meant nearly double the distance to be covered.
After swimming a short distance beneath the surface the girl rose and looked about her. Up the river a few yards she caught the phosphorescent gleam of water upon the prahu's paddles as they brought her to a sudden stop in obedience to Ninaka's command. Then she saw the dark mass of the war-craft drifting down toward her.
Again she dove and with strong strokes headed for the shore. The next time that she rose she was terrified to see the prahu looming close behind her. The paddlers were propelling the boat slowly in her direction-- it was almost upon her now--there was a shout from a man in the bow--she had been seen.
Like a flash she dove once more and, turning, struck out rapidly straight back beneath the oncoming boat. When she came to the surface again it was to find herself as far from shore as she had been when she first quitted the prahu, but the craft was now circling far below her, and she set out once again to retrace her way toward the inky mass of shore line which loomed apparently near and yet, as she knew, was some considerable distance from her.
As she swam, her mind, filled with the terrors of the night, conjured recollection of the stories she had heard of the fierce crocodiles which infest certain of the rivers of Borneo. Again and again she could have sworn that she felt some huge, slimy body sweep beneath her in the mysterious waters of this unknown river.
Behind her she saw the prahu turn back up stream, but now her mind was suddenly engaged with a new danger, for the girl realized that the strong current was bearing her down stream more rapidly than she had imagined. Already she could hear the increasing roar of the river as it rushed, wild and tumultuous, through the entrance to the narrow gorge below her. How far it was to shore she could not guess, or how far to the certain death of the swirling waters toward which she was being drawn by an irresistible force; but of one thing she was certain, her strength was rapidly waning, and she must reach the bank quickly.
With redoubled energy she struck out in one last mighty effort to reach the shore. The tug of the current was strong upon her, like a giant hand reaching up out of the cruel river to bear her back to death. She felt her strength ebbing quickly--her strokes now were feeble and futile. With a prayer to her Maker she threw her hands above her head in the last effort of the drowning swimmer to clutch at even thin air for support--the current caught and swirled her downward toward the gorge, and, at the same instant her fingers touched and closed upon something which swung low above the water.
With the last flickering spark of vitality that remained in her poor, exhausted body Virginia Maxon clung to the frail support that a kind Providence had thrust into her hands. How long she hung there she never knew, but finally a little strength returned to her, and presently she realized that it was a pendant creeper hanging low from a jungle tree upon the bank that had saved her from the river's rapacious maw.
Inch by inch she worked herself upward toward the bank, and at last, weak and panting, sunk exhausted to the cool carpet of grass that grew to the water's edge. Almost immediately tired, Nature plunged her into a deep sleep. It was daylight when she awoke, dreaming that the tall young giant had rescued her from a band of demons and was lifting her in his arms to carry her back to her father.
Through half open lids she saw the sunlight filtering through the leafy canopy above her-she wondered at the realism of her dream; full consciousness returned and with it the conviction that she was in truth being held close by strong arms against a bosom that throbbed to the beating of a real heart.With a sudden start she opened her eyes wide to look up into the hideous face of a giant ourang outang.
Chapter 11. "I Am Coming!"
The morning following the capture of Virginia Maxon by Muda Saffir, Professor Maxon, von Horn, Sing Lee and the sole surviving lascar from the crew of the Ithaca set out across the strait toward the mainland of Borneo in the small boat which the doctor had secreted in the jungle near the harbor. The party was well equipped with firearms and ammunition, and the bottom of the boat was packed full with provisions and cooking utensils. Von Horn had been careful to see that the boat was furnished with a mast and sail, and now, under a good breeze the party was making excellent time toward the mysterious land of their destination.
They had scarcely cleared the harbor when they sighted a ship far out across the strait. Its erratic movements riveted their attention upon it, and later, as they drew nearer, they perceived that the strange craft was a good sized schooner with but a single short mast and tiny sail. For a minute or two her sail would belly with the wind and the vessel make headway, then she would come suddenly about, only to repeat the same tactics a moment later. She sailed first this way and then that, losing one minute what she had gained the minute before.Von Horn was the first to recognize her. "It is the Ithaca," he said, "and her Dyak crew are having a devil of a time managing her-she acts as though she were rudderless."
Von Horn ran the small boat within hailing distance of the dismasted hulk whose side was now lined with waving, gesticulating natives. They were peaceful fishermen, they explained, whose prahus had been wrecked in the recent typhoon. They had barely escaped with their lives by clambering aboard this wreck which Allah had been so merciful as to place directly in their road. Would the Tuan Besar be so good as to tell them how to make the big prahu steer?
Von Horn promised to help them on condition that they would guide him and his party to the stronghold of Rajah Muda Saffir in the heart of Borneo. The Dyaks willingly agreed, and von Horn worked his small boat in close under the Ithaca's stern. Here he found that the rudder had been all but unshipped, probably as the vessel was lifted over the reef during the storm, but a single pintle remaining in its gudgeon. A half hour's work was sufficient to repair the damage, and then the two boats continued their journey toward the mouth of the river up which those they sought had passed the night before.
Inside the river's mouth an anchorage was found for the Ithaca near the very island upon which the fierce battle between Number Thirteen and Muda Saffir's forces had occurred. From the deck of the larger vessel the deserted prahu which had borne Bulan across the strait was visible, as were the bodies of the slain Dyaks and the misshapen creatures of the white giant's forces.
In excited tones the head hunters called von Horn's attention to these evidences of conflict, and the doctor drew his boat up to the island and leaped ashore, followed by Professor Maxon and Sing. Here they found the dead bodies of the four monsters who had fallen in an attempt to rescue their creator's daughter, though little did any there imagine the real truth.
About the corpses of the four were the bodies of a dozen Dyak warriors attesting to the ferocity of the encounter and the savage prowess of the unarmed creatures who had sold their poor lives so dearly.
"Evidently they fell out about the possession of the captive," suggested von Horn. "Let us hope that she did not fall into the clutches of Number Thirteen-- any fate would be better than that."
"God give that that has not befallen her," moaned Professor Maxon. "The pirates might but hold her for ransom, but should that soulless fiend possess her my prayer is that she found the strength and the means to take her own life before he had an opportunity to have his way with her.""Amen," agreed von Horn.
Sing Lee said nothing, but in his heart he hoped that Virginia Maxon was not in the power of Rajah Muda Saffir. The brief experience he had had with Number Thirteen during the fight in the bungalow had rather warmed his wrinkled old heart toward the friendless young giant, and he was a sufficiently good judge of human nature to be confident that the girl would be comparatively safe in his keeping.
It was quickly decided to abandon the small boat and embark the entire party in the deserted war prahu. A half hour later saw the strangely mixed expedition forging up the river, but not until von Horn had boarded the Ithaca and discovered to his dismay that the chest was not on board her.
Far above them on the right bank Muda Saffir still squatted in his hiding place, for no friendly prahu or sampan had passed his way since dawn. His keen eyes roving constantly up and down the long stretch of river that was visible from his position finally sighted a war prahu coming toward him from down stream. As it drew closer he recognized it as one which had belonged to his own fleet before his unhappy encounter with the wild white man and his abhorrent pack, and a moment later his heart leaped as he saw the familiar faces of several of his men; but who were the strangers in the stern, and what was a Chinaman doing perched there upon the bow?
The prahu was nearly opposite him before he recognized Professor Maxon and von Horn as the white men of the little island. He wondered how much they knew of his part in the raid upon their encampment. Bududreen had told him much concerning the doctor, and as Muda Saffir recalled the fact that von Horn was anxious to possess himself of both the treasure and the girl he guessed that he would be safe in the man's hands so long as he could hold out promises of turning one or the other over to him; and so, as he was tired of squatting upon the uncomfortable bank and was very hungry, he arose and hailed the passing prahu.
His men recognized his voice immediately and as they knew nothing of the defection of any of their fellows, turned the boat's prow toward shore without waiting for the command from von Horn. The latter, fearing treachery, sprang to his feet with raised rifle, but when one of the paddlers explained that it was the Rajah Muda Saffir who hailed them and that he was alone von Horn permitted them to draw nearer the shore, though he continued to stand ready to thwart any attempted treachery and warned both the professor and Sing to be on guard.
As the prahu's nose touched the bank Muda Saffir stepped aboard and with many protestations of gratitude explained that he had fallen overboard from his own prahu the night before and that evidently his followers thought him drowned, since none of his boats had returned to search for him. Scarcely had the Malay seated himself before von Horn began questioning him in the rajah's native tongue, not a word of which was intelligible to Professor Maxon. Sing, however, was as familiar with it as was von Horn."Where are the girl and the treasure?" he asked. "What girl, Tuan Besar?" inquired the wily Malay innocently. "And what treasure? The white man speaks in riddles."
"Come, come," cried von Horn impatiently. "Let us have no foolishness. You know perfectly well what I mean-- it will go far better with you if we work together as friends. I want the girl--if she is unharmed--and I will divide the treasure with you if you will help me to obtain them; otherwise you shall have no part of either. What do you say? Shall we be friends or enemies?"
"The girl and the treasure were both stolen from me by a rascally panglima, Ninaka," said Muda Saffir, seeing that it would be as well to simulate friendship for the white man for the time being at least--there would always be an opportunity to use a kris upon him in the remote fastness of the interior to which Muda Saffir would lead them."What became of the white man who led the strange monsters?" asked von Horn. "He killed many of my men, and the last I saw of him he was pushing up the river after the girl and the treasure," replied the Malay.
"If another should ask you," continued von Horn with a meaningful glance toward Professor Maxon, "it will be well to say that the girl was stolen by this white giant and that you suffered defeat in an attempt to rescue her because of your friendship for us. Do you understand?"
Muda Saffir nodded. Here was a man after his own heart, which loved intrigue and duplicity. Evidently he would be a good ally in wreaking vengeance upon the white giant who had caused all his discomfiture-- afterward there was always the kris if the other should become inconvenient.
At the long-house at which Barunda and Ninaka had halted, Muda Saffir learned all that had transpired, his informants being the two Dyaks who had led Bulan and his pack into the jungle. He imparted the information to von Horn and both men were delighted that thus their most formidable enemy had been disposed of. It would be but a question of time before the inexperienced creatures perished in the dense forest-- that they ever could retrace their steps to the river was most unlikely, and the chances were that one by one they would be dispatched by head hunters while they slept.
Again the party embarked, reinforced by the two Dyaks who were only too glad to renew their allegiance to Muda Saffir while he was backed by the guns of the white men. On and on they paddled up the river, gleaning from the dwellers in the various long-houses information of the passing of the two prahus with Barunda, Ninaka, and the white girl.
Professor Maxon was impatient to hear every detail that von Horn obtained from Muda Saffir and the various Dyaks that were interviewed at the first long-house and along the stretch of river they covered. The doctor told him that Number Thirteen still had Virginia and was fleeing up the river in a swift prahu. He enlarged upon the valor shown by Muda Saffir and his men in their noble attempt to rescue his daughter, and through it all Sing Lee sat with half closed eyes, apparently oblivious to all that passed before him. What were the workings of that intricate celestial brain none can say.
Far in the interior of the jungle Bulan and his five monsters stumbled on in an effort to find the river. Had they known it they were moving parallel with the stream, but a few miles from it. At times it wound in wide detours close to the path of the lost creatures, and again it circled far away from them.
As they travelled they subsisted upon the fruits with which they had become familiar upon the island of their creation. They suffered greatly for lack of water, but finally stumbled upon a small stream at which they filled their parched stomachs. Here it occurred to Bulan that it would be wise to follow the little river, since they could be no more completely lost than they now were no matter where it should lead them, and it would at least insure them plenty of fresh water.
As they proceeded down the bank of the stream it grew in size until presently it became a fair sized river, and Bulan had hopes that it might indeed prove the stream that they had ascended from the ocean and that soon he would meet with the prahus and possibly find Virginia Maxon herself. The strenuous march of the six through the jungle had torn their light cotton garments into shreds so that they were all practically naked, while their bodies were scratched and bleeding from countless wounds inflicted by sharp thorns and tangled brambles through which they had forced their way.
Bulan still carried his heavy bull whip while his five companions were armed with the parangs they had taken from the Dyaks they had overpowered upon the island at the mouth of the river. It was upon this strange and remarkable company that the sharp eyes of a score of river Dyaks peered through the foliage. The head hunters had been engaged in collecting camphor crystals when their quick ears caught the noisy passage of the six while yet at a considerable distance, and with ready parangs the savages crept stealthily toward the sound of the advancing party.
At first they were terror stricken at the hideous visages of five of the creatures they beheld, but when they saw how few their numbers, and how poorly armed they were, as well as the awkwardness with which they carried their parangs, denoting their unfamiliarity with the weapons, they took heart and prepared to ambush them.
What prizes those terrible heads would be when properly dried and decorated! The savages fairly trembled in anticipation of the commotion they would cause in the precincts of their long-house when they returned with six such magnificent trophies.
Their victims came blundering on through the dense jungle to where the twenty sleek brown warriors lay in wait for them. Bulan was in the lead, and close behind him in single file lumbered his awkward crew. Suddenly there was a chorus of savage cries close beside him and simultaneously he found himself in the midst of twenty cutting, slashing parangs.
Like lightning his bull whip flew into action, and to the astonished warriors it was as though a score of men were upon them in the person of this mighty white giant. Following the example of their leader the five creatures at his back leaped upon the nearest warriors, and though they wielded their parangs awkwardly the superhuman strength back of their cuts and thrusts sent the already blood stained blades through many a brown body.
The Dyaks would gladly have retreated after the first surprise of their initial attack, but Bulan urged his men on after them, and so they were forced to fight to preserve their lives at all. At last five of them managed to escape into the jungle, but fifteen remained quietly upon the earth where they had fallen--the victims of their own over confidence. Beside them lay two of Bulan's five, so that now the little party was reduced to four--and the problem that had faced Professor Maxon was so much closer to its own solution.
From the bodies of the dead Dyaks Bulan and his three companions, Number Three, Number Ten, and Number Twelve, took enough loin cloths, caps, war-coats, shields and weapons to fit them out completely, after discarding the ragged remnants of their cotton pajamas, and now, even more terrible in appearance than before, the rapidly vanishing company of soulless monsters continued their aimless wandering down the river's brim.
The five Dyaks who had escaped carried the news of the terrible creatures that had fallen upon them in the jungle, and of the awful prowess of the giant white man who led them. They told of how, armed only with a huge whip, he had been a match and more than a match for the best warriors of the tribe, and the news that they started spread rapidly down the river from one long-house to another until it reached the broad stream into which the smaller river flowed, and then it travelled up and down to the headwaters above and the ocean far below in the remarkable manner that news travels in the wild places of the world.
So it was that as Bulan advanced he found the long-houses in his path deserted, and came to the larger river and turned up toward its head without meeting with resistance or even catching a glimpse of the brown-skinned people who watched him from their hiding places in the brush.
That night they slept in the long-house near the bank of the greater stream, while its rightful occupants made the best of it in the jungle behind. The next morning found the four again on the march ere the sun had scarcely lighted the dark places of the forest, for Bulan was now sure that he was on the right trail and that the new river that he had come to was indeed the same that he had traversed in the Prahu with Barunda.
It must have been close to noon when the young giant's ears caught the sound of the movement of some animal in the jungle a short distance to his right and away from the river. His experience with men had taught him to be wary, for it was evident that every man's hand was against him, so he determined to learn at once whether the noise he heard came from some human enemy lurking along his trail ready to spring upon him with naked parang at a moment that he was least prepared, or merely from some jungle brute.
Cautiously he threaded his way through the matted vegetation in the direction of the sound. Although a parang from the body of a vanquished Dyak hung at his side he grasped his bull whip ready in his right hand, preferring it to the less accustomed weapon of the head hunter. For a dozen yards he advanced without sighting the object of his search, but presently his efforts were rewarded by a glimpse of a reddish, hairy body, and a pair of close set, wicked eyes peering at him from behind a giant tree.
At the same instant a slight movement at one side attracted his attention to where another similar figure crouched in the underbrush, and then a third, fourth and fifth became evident about him. Bulan looked in wonderment upon the strange, man-like creatures who eyed him threateningly from every hand. They stood fully as high as the brown Dyak warriors, but their bodies were naked except for the growth of reddish hair which covered them, shading to black upon the face and hands.
The lips of the nearest were raised in an angry snarl that exposed wicked looking fighting fangs, but the beasts did not seem inclined to initiate hostilities, and as they were unarmed and evidently but engaged upon their own affairs Bulan decided to withdraw without arousing them further. As he turned to retrace his steps he found his three companions gazing in wide-eyed astonishment upon the strange new creatures which confronted them.
Number Ten was grinning broadly, while Number Three advanced cautiously toward one of the creatures, making a low guttural noise, that could only be interpreted as peaceful and conciliatory--more like a feline purr it was than anything else.
"And I," echoed Number Twelve. "At last we have found our own, let us all go with them and live with them, far away from the men who would beat us with great whips, and cut us with their sharp swords.""They are not human beings," exclaimed Bulan. "We cannot live with them." "Neither are we human beings," retorted Number Twelve. "Has not von Horn told us so many times?"
"If I am not now a human being," replied Bulan, "I intend to be one, and so I shall act as a human being should act. I shall not go to live with savage beasts, nor shall you. Come with me as I tell you, or you shall again taste the bull whip."
"We shall do as we please," growled Number Ten, baring his fangs. "You are not our master. We have followed you as long as we intend to. We are tired of forever walking, walking, walking through the bushes that tear our flesh and hurt us. Go and be a human being if you think you can, but do not longer interfere with us or we shall kill you," and he looked first at Number Three and then at Number Twelve for approval of his ultimatum.
Number Three nodded his grotesque and hideous head-- he was so covered with long black hair that he more nearly resembled an ourang outang than a human being. Number Twelve looked doubtful.
"I think Number Ten is right," he said at last. "We are not human. We have no souls. We are things. And while you, Bulan, are beautiful, yet you are as much a soulless thing as we--that much von Horn taught us well. So I believe that it would be better were we to keep forever from the sight of men. I do not much like the thought of living with these strange, hairy monsters, but we might find a place here in the jungle where we could live alone and in peace."
"I do not want to live alone," cried Number Three. "I want a mate, and I see a beautiful one yonder now. I am going after her," and with that he again started toward a female ourang outang; but the lady bared her fangs and retreated before his advance. "Even the beasts will have none of us," cried Number Ten angrily. "Let us take them by force then," and he started after Number Three."Come back!" shouted Bulan, leaping after the two deserters. As he raised his voice there came an answering cry from a little distance ahead--a cry for help, and it was in the agonized tones of a woman's voice. "I am coming!" shouted Bulan, and without another glance at his mutinous crew he sprang through the line of menacing ourang outangs.
Chapter 12. Perfidy
On the morning that Bulan set out with his three monsters from the deserted long-house in which they had spent the night, Professor Maxon's party was speeding up the river, constantly buoyed with hope by the repeated reports of natives that the white girl had been seen passing in a war prahu.
In translating this information to Professor Maxon, von Horn habitually made it appear that the girl was in the hands of Number Thirteen, or Bulan, as they had now come to call him owing to the natives' constant use of that name in speaking of the strange, and formidable white giant who had invaded their land.
At the last long-house below the gorge, the head of which had witnessed Virginia Maxon's escape from the clutches of Ninaka and Barunda, the searching party was forced to stop owing to a sudden attack of fever which had prostrated the professor. Here they found a woman who had a strange tale to relate of a remarkable sight she had witnessed that very morning.
It seemed that she had been straining tapioca in a little stream which flowed out of the jungle at the rear of the long-house when her attention was attracted by the crashing of an animal through the bushes a few yards above her. As she looked she saw a huge MIAS PAPPAN cross the stream, bearing in his arms the dead, or unconscious form of a whiteskinned girl with golden hair.
Her description of the MIAS PAPPAN was such as to half convince von Horn that she might have seen Number Three carrying Virginia Maxon, although he could not reconcile the idea with the story that the two Dyaks had told him of losing all of Bulan's monsters in the jungle.
Of course it was possible that they might have made their way over land to this point, but it seemed scarcely credible--and then, how could they have come into posession of Virginia Maxon, whom every report except this last agreed was still in the hands of Ninaka and Barunda. There was always the possibility that the natives had lied to him, and the more he questioned the Dyak woman the more firmly convinced he became that this was the fact.
The outcome of it was that von Horn finally decided to make an attempt to follow the trail of the creature that the woman had seen, and with this plan in view persuaded Muda Saffir to arrange with the chief of the long-house at which they then were to furnish him with trackers and an escort of warriors, promising them some splendid heads should they be successful in overhauling Bulan and his pack.
Professor Maxon was too ill to accompany the expedition, and von Horn set out alone with his Dyak allies. For a time after they departed Sing Lee fretted and fidgeted upon the verandah of the long-house. He wholly distrusted von Horn, and from motives of his own finally decided to follow him. The trail of the party was plainly discernible, and the Chinaman had no difficulty in following them, so that they had gone no great way before he came within hearing distance of them. Always just far enough behind to be out of sight, he kept pace with the little column as it marched through the torrid heat of the morning, until a little after noon he was startled by the sudden cry of a woman in distress, and the answering shout of a man.
The voices came from a point in the jungle a little to his right and behind him, and without waiting for the column to return, or even to ascertain if they had heard the cries, Sing ran rapidly in the direction of the alarm. For a time he saw nothing, but was guided by the snapping of twigs and the rustling of bushes ahead, where the authors of the commotion were evidently moving swiftly through the jungle.
Presently a strange sight burst upon his astonished vision. It was the hideous Number Three in mad pursuit of a female ourang outang, and an instant later he saw Number Twelve and Number Ten in battle with two males, while beyond he heard the voice of a man shouting encouragement to some one as he dashed through the jungle. It was in this last event that Sing's interest centered, for he was sure that he recognized the voice as that of Bulan, while the first cry for help which he had heard had been in a woman's voice, and Sing knew that its author could be none other than Virginia Maxon.
Those whom he pursued were moving rapidly through the jungle which was now becoming more and more open, but the Chinaman was no mean runner, and it was not long before he drew within sight of the object of his pursuit.
His first glimpse was of Bulan, running swiftly between two huge bull ourang outangs that snapped and tore at him as he bounded forward cutting and slashing at his foes with his heavy whip. Just in front of the trio was another bull bearing in his arms the unconscious form of Virginia Maxon who had fainted at the first response to her cry for help. Sing was armed with a heavy revolver but he dared not attempt to use it for fear that he might wound either Bulan or the girl, and so he was forced to remain but a passive spectator of what ensued.
Bulan, notwithstanding the running battle the two bulls were forcing upon him, was gaining steadily upon the fleeing ourang outang that was handicapped by the weight of the fair captive he bore in his huge, hairy arms. As they came into a natural clearing in the jungle the fleeing bull glanced back to see his pursuer almost upon him, and with an angry roar turned to meet the charge.
In another instant Bulan and the three bulls were rolling and tumbling about the ground, a mass of flying fur and blood from which rose fierce and angry roars and growls, while Virginia Maxon lay quietly upon the sward where her captor had dropped her.
Sing was about to rush forward and pick her up, when he saw von Horn and his Dyaks leap into the clearing, to which they had been guided by the sounds of the chase and the encounter. The doctor halted at the sight that met his eyes--the prostrate form of the girl and the man battling with three huge bulls.
Then he gathered up Virginia Maxon, and with a sign to his Dyaks, who were thoroughly frightened at the mere sight of the white giant of whom they had heard such terrible stories, turned and hastened back in the direction from which they had come, leaving the man to what seemed must be a speedy and horrible death.
Sing Lee was astounded at the perfidy of the act. To Bulan alone was due the entire credit of having rescued Professor Maxon's daughter, and yet in the very presence of his selfsacrificing loyalty and devotion von Horn had deserted him without making the least attempt to aid him. But the wrinkled old Chinaman was made of different metal, and had started forward to assist Bulan when a heavy hand suddenly fell upon his shoulder. Looking around he saw the hideous face of Number Ten snarling into his. The bloodshot eyes of the monster were flaming with rage. He had been torn and chewed by the bull with which he had fought, and though he had finally overcome and killed the beast, a female which he had pursued had eluded him. In a frenzy of passion and blood lust aroused by his wounds, disappointment and the taste of warm blood which still smeared his lips and face, he had been seeking the female when he suddenly stumbled upon the hapless Sing.
With a roar he grasped the Chinaman as though to break him in two, but Sing was not at all inclined to give up his life without a struggle, and Number Ten was quick to learn that no mean muscles moved beneath that wrinkled, yellow hide.
There could, however, have been but one outcome to the unequal struggle had Sing not been armed with a revolver, though it was several seconds before he could bring it into play upon the great thing that shook and tossed him about as though he had been a rat in the mouth of a terrier. But suddenly there was the sharp report of a firearm, and another of Professor Maxon's unhappy experiments sank back into the nothingness from which he had conjured it.
Then Sing turned his attention to Bulan and his three savage assailants, but, except for the dead body of a bull ourang outang upon the spot where he had last seen the four struggling, there was no sign either of the white man or his antagonists; nor, though he listened attentively, could he catch the slightest sound within the jungle other than the rustling of the leaves and the raucous cries of the brilliant birds that flitted among the gorgeous blooms about him.
For half an hour he searched in every direction, but finally, fearing that he might become lost in the mazes of the unfamiliar forest he reluctantly turned his face toward the river and the long-house that sheltered his party.
Here he found Professor Maxon much improved--the safe return of Virginia having acted as a tonic upon him. The girl and her father sat with von Horn upon the verandah of the long-house as Sing clambered up the notched log that led to it from the ground. At sight of Sing's wrinkled old face Virginia Maxon sprang to her feet and ran forward to greet him, for she had been very fond of the shrewd and kindly Chinaman of whom she had seen so much during the dreary months of her imprisonment within the campong."Oh, Sing," she cried, "where have you been? We were all so worried to think that no sooner was one of us rescued than another became lost."
"Sing takee walk, Linee, las all," said the grinning Chinaman. "Velly glad see Linee black 'gain," and that was all that Sing Lee had to say of the adventures through which he had just passed, and the strange sights that he had seen.
Again and again the girl and von Horn narrated the stirring scenes of the day, the latter being compelled to repeat all that had transpired from the moment that he had heard Virginia's cry, though it was apparent that he only consented to speak of his part in her rescue under the most considerable urging. Very pretty modesty, thought Sing when he had heard the doctor's version of the affair.
"You see," said von Horn, "when I reached the spot Number Three, the brute that you thought was an ape, had just turned you over to Number Thirteen, or, as the natives now call him, Bulan. You were then in a faint, and when I attacked Bulan he dropped you to defend himself. I had expected a bitter fight from him after the wild tales the natives have been telling of his ferocity, but it was soon evident that he is an arrant coward, for I did not even have to fire my revolver-- a few thumps with the butt of it upon his brainless skull sent him howling into the jungle with his pack at his heels."
"How fortunate it is, my dear doctor," said Professor Maxon, "that you were bright enough to think of trailing the miscreant into the jungle. But for that Virginia would still be in his clutches and by this time he would have been beyond all hope of capture. How can we ever repay you, dear friend?""That you were generous enough to arrange when we first embarked upon the search for your daughter," replied von Horn.
"Just so, just so," said the professor, but a shade of trouble tinged the expression of his face, and a moment later he arose, saying that he felt weak and tired and would go to his sleeping room and lie down for a while. The fact was that Professor Maxon regretted the promise he had made von Horn relative to his daughter.
Once before he had made plans for her marriage only to regret them later; he hoped that he had made no mistake this time, but he realized that it had scarcely been fair to Virginia to promise her to his assistant without first obtaining her consent. Yet a promise was a promise, and, again, was it not true that but for von Horn she would have been dead or worse than dead in a short time had she not been rescued from the clutches of the soulless Bulan? Thus did the old man justify his action, and clinch the determination that he had before reached to compel Virginia to wed von Horn should she, from some incomprehensible motive, demur. Yet he hoped that the girl would make it easy, by accepting voluntarily the man who had saved her life.
Left alone, or as he thought alone, with the girl in the growing shadows of the evening, von Horn thought the moment propitious for renewing his suit. He did not consider the natives squatting about them as of sufficient consequence to consider, since they would not understand the language in which he addressed Virginia, and in the dusk he failed to note that Sing squatted with the Dyaks, close behind them.
"Virginia," he commenced, after an interval of silence, "often before have I broached the subject nearest to my heart, yet never have you given me much encouragement. Can you not feel for the man who would gladly give his life for you, sufficient affection to permit you to make him the happiest man in the world? I do not ask for all your love at first--that will come later. Just give me the right to cherish and protect you. Say that you will be my wife, Virginia, and we need have no more fears that the strange vagaries of your father's mind can ever again jeopardize your life or your happiness as they have in the past."
"I feel that I owe you my life," replied the girl in a quiet voice, "and while I am now positive that my father has entirely regained his sanity, and looks with as great abhorrence upon the terrible fate he planned for me as I myself, I cannot forget the debt of gratitude which belongs to you.
"At the same time I do not wish to be the means of making you unhappy, as surely would be the result were I to marry you without love. Let us wait until I know myself better. Though you have spoken to me of the matter before, I realize now that I never have made any effort to determine whether or not I really can love you. There is time enough before we reach civilization, if ever we are fortunate enough to do so at all. Will you not be as generous as you are brave, and give me a few days before I must make you a final answer?"
With Professor Maxon's solemn promise to insure his ultimate success von Horn was very gentle and gracious in deferring to the girl's wishes. The girl for her part could not put from her mind the disappointment she had felt when she discovered that her rescuer was von Horn, and not the handsome young giant whom she had been positive was in close pursuit of her abductors.
When Number Thirteen had been mentioned she had always pictured him as a hideous monster, similar to the creature that had seized her in the jungle beside the encampment that first day she had seen the mysterious stranger, of whom she could obtain no information either from her father or von Horn. When she had recently insisted that the same man had been at the head of her father's creatures in an attempt to rescue her, both von Horn and Professor Maxon scoffed at the idea, until at last she was convinced that the fright and the firelight had conspired to conjure in her brain the likeness of one who was linked by memory to another time of danger and despair.
Virginia could not understand why it was that the face of the stranger persisted in obtruding itself in her memory. That the man was unusually good looking was undeniable, but she had known many good looking men, nor was she especially impressionable to mere superficial beauty. No words had passed between them on the occasion of their first meeting, so it could have been nothing that he said which caused the memory of him to cling so tenaciously in her mind.
What was it then? Was it the memory of the moments that she had lain in his strong arms--was it the shadow of the sweet, warm glow that had suffused her as his eyes had caught hers upon his face?
The thing was tantalizing--it was annoying. The girl blushed in mortification at the very thought that she could cling so resolutely to the memory of a total stranger, and--still greater humiliation--long in the secret depths of her soul to see him again.
She was angry with herself, but the more she tried to forget the young giant who had come into her life for so brief an instant, the more she speculated upon his identity and the strange fate that had brought him to their little, savage island only to snatch him away again as mysteriously as he had come, the less was the approval with which she looked upon the suit of Doctor von Horn.
Von Horn had left her, and strolled down to the river. Finally Virginia arose to seek the crude couch which had been spread for her in one of the sleeping rooms of the longhouse. As she passed a group of natives squatted nearby one of the number arose and approached her, and as she halted, half in fright, a low voice whispered:"Lookee out, Linee, dloctor Hornee velly bad man." "Why, Sing!" exclaimed Virginia. "What in the world do you mean by saying such a thing as that?"
"Never mind, Linee; you always good to old Sing. Sing no likee see you sadee. Dloctor Hornee velly bad man, las allee," and without another word the Chinaman turned and walked away.
Chapter 13. Buried Treasure
After the escape of the girl Barunda and Ninaka had fallen out over that affair and the division of the treasure, with the result that the panglima had slipped a knife between the ribs of his companion and dropped the body overboard.
Barunda's followers, however, had been highly enraged at the act, and in the ensuing battle which they waged for revenge of their murdered chief Ninaka and his crew had been forced to take to the shore and hide in the jungle.
With difficulty they had saved the chest and dragged it after them into the mazes of the underbrush. Finally, however, they succeeded in eluding the angry enemy, and took up their march through the interior for the head of a river which would lead them to the sea by another route, it being Ninaka's intention to dispose of the contents of the chest as quickly as possible through the assistance of a rascally Malay who dwelt at Gunung Tebor, where he carried on a thriving trade with pirates.
But presently it became apparent that he had not so easily escaped the fruits of his villainy as he had supposed, for upon the evening of the first day the rear of his little column was attacked by some of Barunda's warriors who had forged ahead of their fellows, with the result that the head of Ninaka's brother went to increase the prestige and glory of the house of the enemy.
Ninaka was panic-stricken, since he knew that hampered as he was by the heavy chest he could neither fight nor run to advantage. And so, upon a dark night near the head waters of the river he sought, he buried the treasure at the foot of a mighty buttress tree, and with his parang made certain cabalistic signs upon the bole whereby he might identify the spot when it was safe to return and disinter his booty. Then, with his men, he hastened down the stream until they reached the head of prahu navigation where they stole a craft and paddled swiftly on toward the sea.
When the three bull ourang outangs closed upon Bulan he felt no fear as to the outcome of the battle, for never in his experience had he coped with any muscles that his own mighty thews could not overcome. But as the battle continued he realized that there might be a limit to the number of antagonists which he could successfully withstand, since he could scarcely hope with but two hands to reach the throats of three enemies, or ward off the blows and clutches of six powerful hands, or the gnashing of three sets of savage fangs.
When the truth dawned upon him that he was being killed the instinct of self-preservation was born in him. The ferocity with which he had fought before paled into insignificance beside the mad fury with which he now attacked the three terrible creatures upon him. Shaking himself like a great lion he freed his arms for a moment from the clinging embrace of his foemen, and seizing the neck of the nearest in his mighty clutch wrenched the head completely around.
There was one awful shriek from the tortured brute-- the vertebrae parted with a snap, and Bulan's antagonists were reduced to two. Lunging and struggling the three combatants stumbled farther and farther into the jungle beyond the clearing. With mighty blows the man buffeted the beasts to right and left, but ever they returned in bestial rage to renew the encounter. Bulan was weakening rapidly under the terrific strain to which he had been subjected, and from loss of the blood which flowed from his wounds; yet he was slowly mastering the foaming brutes, who themselves were torn and bleeding and exhausted. Weaker and weaker became the struggles of them all, when a sudden misstep sent Bulan stumbling headforemost against the stem of a tree, where, stunned, he sank unconscious, at the mercy of the relentless bulls.
They had already sprung upon the prostrate form of their victim to finish what the accident had commenced, when the loud report of Sing's revolver smote upon their startled ears as the Chinaman's bullet buried itself in the heart of Number Ten. Never had the ourang outangs heard the sound of a firearm, and the noise, seemingly in such close proximity, filled them with such terror that on the instant they forgot all else than this new and startling fear, and with headlong haste leaped away into the jungle, leaving Bulan lying where he had fallen.So it was that though Sing passed within a few paces of the unconscious man he neither saw nor heard aught of him or his antagonists.
When Bulan returned to consciousness the day was drawing to a close. He was stiff and sore and weak. His head ached horribly. He thought that he must indeed be dying, for how could one who suffered so revive? But at last he managed to stagger to his feet, and finally to reach the stream along which he had been travelling earlier in the day. Here he quenched his thirst and bathed his wounds, and as darkness came he lay down to sleep upon a bed of matted grasses.
The next morning found him refreshed and in considerably less pain, for the powers of recuperation which belonged to his perfect health and mighty physique had already worked an almost miraculous transformation in him. While he was hunting in the jungle for his breakfast he came suddenly upon Number Three and Number Twelve similarly employed.
At sight of him the two creatures started to run away, but he called to them reassuringly and they returned. On closer inspection Bulan saw that both were covered with terrible wounds, and after questioning them learned that they had fared almost as badly at the hands of the ourang outangs as had he."Even the beasts loathe us," exclaimed Number Twelve. "What are we to do?" "Leave the beasts alone, as I told you," replied Bulan. "Human beings hate us also," persisted Number Twelve. "Then let us live by ourselves," suggested Number Three. "We hate each other," retorted the pessimistic Number Twelve. "There is no place for us in the world, and no companionship. We are but soulless things."
"Stop!" cried Bulan. "I am not a soulless thing. I am a man, and within me is as fine and pure a soul as any man may own," and to his mind's eye came the vision of a fair face surmounted by a mass of loosely waving, golden hair; but the brainless ones could not understand and only shook their heads as they resumed their feeding and forgot the subject.
When the three had satisfied the cravings of their appetites two of them were for lying down to sleep until it should be time to feed again, but Bulan, once more master, would not permit it, and forced them to accompany him in his seemingly futile search for the girl who had disappeared so mysteriously after he had rescued her from the ourang outangs.
Both Number Twelve and Number Three had assured him that the beasts had not recaptured her, for they had seen the entire band flee madly through the jungle after hearing the report of the single shot which had so terrorized Bulan's antagonists. Bulan did not know what to make of this occurrence which he had not himself heard, the shot having come after he had lost consciousness at the foot of the tree; but from the description of the noise given him by Number Twelve he felt sure that it must have been the report of a gun, and hoped that it betokened the presence of Virginia Maxon's friends, and that she was now safe in their keeping.
Nevertheless he did not relinquish his determination to continue his search for her, since it was quite possible that the gun had been fired by a native, many of whom possessed firearms. His first concern was for the girl's welfare, which spoke eloquently for the chivalry of his character, and though he wished to see her for the pleasure that it would give him, the hope of serving her was ever the first consideration in his mind.
He was now confident that he was following the wrong direction, and with the intention in view of discovering the tracks of the party which had rescued or captured Virginia after he had been forced to relinquish her, he set out in a totally new direction away from the river. His small woodcraft and little experience in travelling resulted in his becoming completely confused, so that instead of returning to the spot where he had last seen the girl, as he wished to do, he bore far to the northeast of the place, and missed entirely the path which von Horn and his Dyaks had taken from the long-house into the jungle and back.
All that day he urged his reluctant companions on through the fearful heat of the tropics until, almost exhausted, they halted at dusk upon the bank of a river, where they filled their stomachs with cooling draughts, and after eating lay down to sleep. It was quite dark when Bulan was aroused by the sound of something approaching from up the river, and as he lay listening he presently heard the subdued voices of men conversing in whispers. He recognized the language as that of the Dyaks, though he could interpret nothing which they said.
Presently he saw a dozen warriors emerge into a little patch of moonlight. They bore a huge chest among them which they deposited within a few paces of where Bulan lay. Then they commenced to dig in the soft earth with their spears and parangs until they had excavated a shallow pit. Into this they lowered the chest, covering it over with earth and sprinkling dead grass, twigs and leaves above it, that it might present to a searcher no sign that the ground had recently been disturbed. The balance of the loose earth which would not go back into the pit was thrown into the river.
When all had been made to appear as it was before, one of the warriors made several cuts and scratches upon the stem of a tree which grew above the spot where the chest was buried; then they hastened on in silence past Bulan and down the river.
As von Horn stood by the river's bank after his conversation with Virginia, he saw a small sampan approaching from up stream. In it he made out two natives, and the stealthiness of their approach caused him to withdraw into the shadow of a large prahu which was beached close to where he had been standing.When the men had come close to the landing one of them gave a low signal, and presently a native came down from the long-house. "Who is it comes by night?" he asked. "And what want you?" "News has just reached us that Muda Saffir is alive," replied one of the men in the boat, "and that he sleeps this night in your long-house. Is it true?" "Yes," answered the man on shore. "What do you wish of the Rajah Muda Saffir?" "We are men of his company and we have news for him," returned the speaker in the sampan. "Tell him that we must speak to him at once."
The native on shore returned to the long-house without replying. Von Horn wondered what the important news for Muda Saffir might be, and so he remained as he had been, concealed behind the prahu.Presently the old Malay came down to the water's edge-- very warily though--and asked the men whom they might be. When they had given their names he seemed relieved.
"Ninaka," they said, "has murdered Barunda who was taking the rajah's treasure up to the rajah's stronghold--the treasure which Ninaka had stolen after trying to murder the rajah and which Barunda had recaptured. Now Ninaka, after murdering Barunda, set off through the jungle toward the river which leads to Gunung Tebor, and Barunda's uncle followed him with what few men he had with him; but he sent us down river to try and find you, master, and beg of you to come with many men and overtake Ninaka and punish him."Muda Saffir thought for a moment.
"Hasten back to the uncle of Barunda and tell him that as soon as I can gather the warriors I shall come and punish Ninaka. I have another treasure here which I must not lose, but I can arrange that it will still be here when I return for it, and then Barunda's uncle can come back with me to assist me if assistance is needed. Also, be sure to tell Barunda's uncle never to lose sight of the treasure," and Muda Saffir turned and hastened back to the long-house.
As the men in the sampan headed the boat's bow up stream again, von Horn ran along the jungle trail beside the river and abreast of the paddlers. When he thought that they were out of hearing of the long-house he hailed the two. In startled surprise the men ceased paddling."Who are you and what do you want?" asked one.
"I am the man to whom the chest belongs," replied von Horn. "If you will take me to Barunda's uncle before Muda Saffir reaches him you shall each have the finest rifles that the white man makes, with ammunition enough to last you a year. All I ask is that you guide me within sight of the party that pursues Ninaka; then you may leave me and tell no one what you have done, nor will I tell any. What say you?"The two natives consulted together in low tones. At last they drew nearer the shore. "Will you give us each a bracelet of brass as well as the rifles?" asked the spokesman. Von Horn hesitated. He knew the native nature well. To have acquiesced too readily would have been to have invited still further demands from them.
"Only the rifles and ammunition," he said at last, "unless you succeed in keeping the knowledge of my presence from both Barunda's uncle and Muda Saffir. If you do that you shall have the bracelets also."The prow of the sampan touched the bank. "Come!" said one of the warriors.
Von Horn stepped aboard. He was armed only with a brace of Colts, and he was going into the heart of the wild country of the head hunters, to pit his wits against those of the wily Muda Saffir. His guides were two savage head hunting warriors of a pirate crew from whom he hoped to steal what they considered a fabulously rich treasure. Whatever sins might be laid to the door of the doctor, there could be no question but that he was a very brave man!
Von Horn's rash adventure had been suggested by the hope that he might, by bribing some of the natives with Barunda's uncle, make way with the treasure before Muda Saffir arrived to claim it, or, failing that, learn its exact whereabouts that he might return for it with an adequate force later. That he was taking his life in his hands he well knew, but so great was the man's cupidity that he reckoned no risk too great for the acquirement of a fortune.
The two Dyaks, paddling in silence up the dark river, proceeded for nearly three hours before they drew in to the bank and dragged the sampan up into the bushes. Then they set out upon a narrow trail into the jungle. It so happened that after travelling for several miles they inadvertently took another path than that followed by the party under Barunda's uncle, so that they passed the latter without being aware of it, going nearly half a mile to the right of where the trailers camped a short distance from the bivouac of Ninaka.
In the dead of night Ninaka and his party had crawled away under the very noses of the avengers, taking the chest with them, and by chance von Horn and the two Dyaks cut back into the main trail along the river almost at the very point that Ninaka halted to bury the treasure.And so it was that Bulan was not the only one who watched the hiding of the chest.
When Ninaka had disappeared down the river trail Bulan lay speculating upon the strange actions he had witnessed. He wondered why the men should dig a hole in the midst of the jungle to hide away the box which he had so often seen in Professor Maxon's workshop. It occurred to him that it might be well to remember just where the thing was buried, so that he could lead the professor to it should he ever see the old man again. As he lay thus, half dozing, his attention was attracted by a stealthy rustling in the bushes nearby, and as he watched he was dumbfounded to see von Horn creep out into the moonlight. A moment later the man was followed by two Dyaks. The three stood conversing in low tones, pointing repeatedly at the spot where the chest lay hidden. Bulan could understand but little of their conversation, but it was evident that von Horn was urging some proposition to which the warriors demurred.
Suddenly, without an instant's warning, von Horn drew his gun, wheeled, and fired pointblank, first at one of his companions, then at the other. Both men fell in their tracks, and scarcely had the pungent odor of the powder smoke reached Bulan's nostrils ere the white man had plunged into the jungle and disappeared.
Failing in his attempt to undermine the loyalty of the two Dyaks von Horn had chosen the only other way to keep the knowledge of the whereabouts of the chest from Barunda's uncle and Muda Saffir, and now his principal interest in life was to escape the vengeance of the head hunters and return to the long-house before his absence should be detected.
There he could form a party of natives and set out to regain the chest after Muda Saffir and Barunda's uncle had given up the quest. That suspicion should fall on him seemed scarcely credible since the only men who knew that he had left the long-house that night lay dead upon the very spot where the treasure reposed.
Chapter 14. Man Or Monster?
When Muda Saffir turned from the two Dyaks who had brought him news of the treasure he hastened to the long-house and arousing the chief of the tribe who domiciled there explained that necessity required that the rajah have at once two war prahus fully manned. Now the power of the crafty old Malay extended from one end of this great river on which the long-house lay to the other, and though not all the tribes admitted allegiance to him, yet there were few who would not furnish him with men and boats when he required them; for his piratical cruises carried him often up and down the stream, and with his savage horde it was possible for him to wreak summary and terrible vengeance upon those who opposed him.
When he had explained his wishes to the chief, the latter, though at heart hating and fearing Muda Saffir, dared not refuse; but to a second proposition he offered strong opposition until the rajah threatened to wipe out his entire tribe should he not accede to his demands.
The thing which the chief demurred to had occurred to Muda Saffir even as he walked back from the river after conversing with the two Dyak messengers. The thought of regaining the treasure, the while he administered punishment to the traitorous Ninaka, filled his soul with savage happiness. Now if he could but once more possess himself of the girl! And why not? There was only the sick old man, a Chinaman and von Horn to prevent it, and the chances were that they all were asleep.So he explained to the chief the plan that had so suddenly sprung to his wicked mind. "Three men with parangs may easily quiet the old man, his assistant and the Chinaman," he said, "and then we can take the girl along with us."
The chief refused at first, point-blank, to be a party to any such proceedings. He knew what had happened to the Sakkaran Dyaks after they had murdered a party of Englishmen, and he did not purpose laying himself and his tribe open to the vengeance of the white men who came in many boats and with countless guns and cannon to take a terrible toll for every drop of white blood spilled.
So it was that Muda Saffir was forced to compromise, and be satisfied with the chief's assistance in abducting the girl, for it was not so difficult a matter to convince the head hunter that she really had belonged to the rajah, and that she had been stolen from him by the old man and the doctor.
Virginia slept in a room with three Dyak women. It was to this apartment that the chief finally consented to dispatch two of his warriors. The men crept noiselessly within the pitch dark interior until they came to the sleeping form of one of the Dyak women. Cautiously they awoke her.
"Where is the white girl?" asked one of the men in a low whisper. "Muda Saffir has sent us for her. Tell her that her father is very sick and wants her, but do not mention Muda Saffir's name lest she might not come."
The whispering awakened Virginia and she lay wondering what the cause of the midnight conference might be, for she recognized that one of the speakers was a man, and there had been no man in the apartment when she had gone to sleep earlier in the night.
Presently she heard some one approach her, and a moment later a woman's voice addressed her; but she could not understand enough of the native tongue to make out precisely the message the speaker wished to convey. The words "father," "sick," and "come," however she finally understood after several repetitions, for she had picked up a smattering of the Dyak language during her enforced association with the natives.
The moment that the possibilities suggested by these few words dawned upon her, she sprang to her feet and followed the woman toward the door of the apartment. Immediately without the two warriors stood upon the verandah awaiting their victim, and as Virginia passed through the doorway she was seized roughly from either side, a heavy hand was clapped over her mouth, and before she could make even an effort to rebel she had been dragged to the end of the verandah, down the notched log to the ground and a moment later found herself in a war prahu which was immediately pushed into the stream.
Since Virginia had come to the long-house after her rescue from the ourang outangs, supposedly by von Horn, Rajah Muda Saffir had kept very much out of sight, for he knew that should the girl see him she would recognize him as the man who had stolen her from the Ithaca. So it came as a mighty shock to the girl when she heard the hated tones of the man whom she had knocked overboard from the prahu two nights before, and realized that the bestial Malay sat close beside her, and that she was again in his power. She looked now for no mercy, nor could she hope to again escape him so easily as she had before, and so she sat with bowed head in the bottom of the swiftly moving craft, buried in anguished thoughts, hopeless and miserable.
Along the stretch of black river that the prahu and her consort covered that night Virginia Maxon saw no living thing other than a single figure in a small sampan which hugged the shadows of the shore as the two larger boats met and passed it, nor answered their hail.
Where von Horn and his two Dyak guides had landed, Muda Saffir's force disembarked and plunged into the jungle. Rapidly they hastened along the well known trail toward the point designated by the two messengers, to come upon the spot almost simultaneously with the party under Barunda's uncle, who, startled by the two shots several hours previously, had been cautiously searching through the jungle for an explanation of them.
They had gone warily for fear that they might stumble upon Ninaka's party before Muda Saffir arrived with reinforcements, and but just now had they discovered the prostrate forms of their two companions. One was dead, but the other was still conscious and had just sufficient vitality left after the coming of his fellows to whisper that they had been treacherously shot by the younger white man who had been at the long-house where they had found Muda Saffir--then the fellow expired without having an opportunity to divulge the secret hiding place of the treasure, over the top of which his body lay.
Now Bulan had been an interested witness of all that transpired. At first he had been inclined to come out of his hiding place and follow von Horn, but so much had already occurred beneath the branches of the great tree where the chest lay hidden that he decided to wait until morning at least, for he was sure that he had by no means seen the last of the drama which surrounded the heavy box. This belief was strengthened by the haste displayed by both Ninaka and von Horn to escape the neighborhood as quickly as possible, as though they feared that they might be apprehended should they delay even for a moment.
Number Three and Number Twelve still slept, not having been aroused even by the shots fired by von Horn. Bulan himself had dozed after the departure of the doctor, but the advent of Barunda's uncle with his followers had awakened him, and now he lay wide eyed and alert as the second party, under Muda Saffir, came into view when they left the jungle trail and entered the clearing.
His interest in either party was but passive until he saw the khaki blouse, short skirt and trim leggins of the captive walking between two of the Dyaks of Muda Saffir's company. At the same instant he recognized the evil features of the rajah as those of the man who had directed the abduction of Virginia Maxon from the wrecked Ithaca.
Like a great cat Bulan drew himself cautiously to all fours-- every nerve and muscle taut with the excitement of the moment. Before him he saw a hundred and fifty ferocious Borneo head hunters, armed with parangs, spears and sumpitans. At his back slept two almost brainless creatures--his sole support against the awful odds he must face before he could hope to succor the divinity whose image was enshrined in his brave and simple heart.
The muscles stood out upon his giant forearm as he gripped the stock of his bull whip. He believed that he was going to his death, for mighty as were his thews he knew that in the face of the horde they would avail him little, yet he saw no other way than to sit supinely by while the girl went to her doom, and that he could not do. He nudged Number Twelve. "Silence!" he whispered, and "Come! The girl is here. We must save her. Kill the men," and the same to the hairy and terrible Number Three.
Both the creatures awoke and rose to their hands and knees without noise that could be heard above the chattering of the natives, who had crowded forward to view the dead bodies of von Horn's victims. Silently Bulan came to his feet, the two monsters at his back rising and pressing close behind him. Along the denser shadows the three crept to a position in the rear of the natives. The girl's guards had stepped forward with the others to join in the discussion that followed the dying statement of the murdered warrior, leaving her upon the outer fringe of the crowd.
For an instant a sudden hope of escape sprang to Virginia Maxon's mind--there was none between her and the jungle through which they had just passed. Though unknown dangers lurked in the black and uncanny depths of the dismal forest, would not death in any form be far preferable to the hideous fate which awaited her in the person of the bestial Malay pirate?
She had turned to take the first step toward freedom when three figures emerged from the wall of darkness behind her. She saw the war-caps, shields, and war- coats, and her heart sank. Here were others of the rajah's party--stragglers who had come just in time to thwart her plans. How large these men were--she never had seen a native of such giant proportions; and now they had come quite close to her, and as the foremost stooped to speak to her she shrank back in fear. Then, to her surprise, she heard in whispered English; "Come quietly, while they are not looking."
She thought the voice familiar, but could not place it, though her heart whispered that it might belong to the young stranger of her dreams. He reached out and took her hand and together they turned and walked quickly toward the jungle, followed by the two who had accompanied him.
Scarcely had they covered half the distance before one of the Dyaks whose duty it had been to guard the girl discovered that she was gone. With a cry he alarmed his fellows, and in another instant a sharp pair of eyes caught the movement of the four who had now broken into a run.
With savage shouts the entire force of head hunters sprang in pursuit. Bulan lifted Virginia in his arms and dashed on ahead of Number Twelve and Number Three. A shower of poisoned darts blown from half a hundred sumpitans fell about them, and then Muda Saffir called to his warriors to cease using their deadly blow-pipes lest they kill the girl.
Into the jungle dashed the four while close behind them came the howling pack of enraged savages. Now one closed upon Number Three only to fall back dead with a broken neck as the giant fingers released their hold upon him. A parang swung close to Number Twelve, but his own, which he had now learned to wield with fearful effect, clove through the pursuing warrior's skull splitting him wide to the breast bone.
Thus they fought the while they forced their way deeper and deeper into the dark mazes of the entangled vegetation. The brunt of the running battle was borne by the two monsters, for Bulan was carrying Virginia, and keeping a little ahead of his companions to insure the girl's greater safety.
Now and then patches of moonlight filtering through occasional openings in the leafy roofing revealed to Virginia the battle that was being waged for possession of her, and once, when Number Three turned toward her after disposing of a new assailant, she was horrified to see the grotesque and terrible face of the creature. A moment later she caught sight of Number Twelve's hideous face. She was appalled.
Could it be that she had been rescued from the Malay to fall into the hands of creatures equally heartless and entirely without souls? She glanced up at the face of him who carried her. In the darkness of the night she had not yet had an opportunity to see the features of the man, but after a glimpse at those of his two companions she trembled to think of the hideous thing that might be revealed to her.
Could it be that she had at last fallen into the hands of the dreaded and terrible Number Thirteen! Instinctively she shrank from contact with the man in whose arms she had been carried without a trace of repugnance until the thought obtruded itself that he might be the creature of her father's mad experimentation, to whose arms she had been doomed by the insane obsession of her parent.
The man shifted her now to give himself freer use of his right arm, for the savages were pressing more closely upon Twelve and Three, and the change made it impossible for the girl to see his face even in the more frequent moonlit places.
But she could see the two who ran and fought just behind them, and she shuddered at her inevitable fate. For should the three be successful in bearing her away from the Dyaks she must face an unknown doom, while should the natives recapture her there was the terrible Malay into whose clutches she had already twice fallen.
Now the head hunters were pressing closer, and suddenly, even as the girl looked directly at him, a spear passed through the heart of Number Three. Clutching madly at the shaft protruding from his misshapen body the grotesque thing stumbled on for a dozen paces, and then sank to the ground as two of the brown warriors sprang upon him with naked parangs. An instant later Virginia Maxon saw the hideous and grisly head swinging high in the hand of a dancing, whooping savage.
The man who carried her was now forced to turn and fight off the enemy that pressed forward past Number Twelve. The mighty bull whip whirled and cracked across the heads and faces of the Dyaks. It was a formidable weapon when backed by the Herculean muscles that rolled and shifted beneath Bulan's sun-tanned skin, and many were the brown warriors that went down beneath its cruel lash.
Virginia could see that the creature who bore her was not deformed of body, but she shrank from the thought of what a sight of his face might reveal. How much longer the two could fight off the horde at their heels the girl could not guess; and as a matter of fact she was indifferent to the outcome of the strange, running battle that was being waged with herself as the victor's spoil.
The country now was becoming rougher and more open. The flight seemed to be leading into a range of low hills, where the jungle grew less dense, and the way rocky and rugged. They had entered a narrow canyon when Number Twelve went down beneath a half dozen parangs. Again the girl saw a bloody head swung on high and heard the fierce, wild chorus of exulting victory. She wondered how long it would be ere the creature beneath her would add his share to the grim trophies of the hunt.
In the interval that the head hunters had paused to sever Number Twelve's head, Bulan had gained fifty yards upon them, and then, of a sudden, he came to a sheer wall rising straight across the narrow trail he had been following. Ahead there was no way--a cat could scarce have scaled that formidable barrier--but to the right he discerned what appeared to be a steep and winding pathway up the canyon's side, and with a bound he clambered along it to where it surmounted the rocky wall.
There he turned, winded, to await the oncoming foe. Here was a spot where a single man might defy an army, and Bulan had been quick to see the natural advantages of it. He placed the girl upon her feet behind a protruding shoulder of the canyon's wall which rose to a considerable distance still above them. Then he turned to face the mob that was surging up the narrow pathway toward him.
At his feet lay an accumulation of broken rock from the hillside above, and as a spear sped, singing, close above his shoulder, the occurrence suggested a use for the rough and jagged missiles which lay about him in such profusion. Many of the pieces were large, weighing twenty and thirty pounds, and some even as much as fifty. Picking up one of the larger Bulan raised it high above his head, and then hurled it down amongst the upclimbing warriors. In an instant pandemonium reigned, for the heavy boulder had mowed down a score of the pursuers, breaking arms and legs in its meteoric descent.
Missile after missile Bulan rained down upon the struggling, howling Dyaks, until, seized by panic, they turned and fled incontinently down into the depths of the canyon and back along the narrow trail they had come, and then superstitious fear completed the rout that the flying rocks had started, for one whispered to another that this was the terrible Bulan and that he had but lured them on into the hills that he might call forth all his demons and destroy them.For a moment Bulan stood watching the retreating savages, a smile upon his lips, and then as the sudden equatorial dawn burst forth he turned to face the girl.
As Virginia Maxon saw the fine features of the giant where she had expected to find the grotesque and hideous lineaments of a monster, she gave a quick little cry of pleasure and relief."Thank God!" she cried fervently. "Thank God that you are a man--I thought that I was in the clutches of the hideous and soulless monster, Number Thirteen."
The smile upon the young man's face died. An expression of pain, and hopelessness, and sorrow swept across his features. The girl saw the change, and wondered, but how could she guess the grievous wound her words had inflicted?
Chapter 15. Too Late
For a moment the two stood in silence; Bulan tortured by thoughts of the bitter humiliation that he must suffer when the girl should learn his identity; Virginia wondering at the sad lines that had come into the young man's face, and at his silence.It was the girl who first spoke. "Who are you," she asked, "to whom I owe my safety?"
The man hesitated. To speak aught than the truth had never occurred to him during his brief existence. He scarcely knew how to lie. To him a question demanded but one manner of reply--the facts. But never before had he had to face a question where so much depended upon his answer. He tried to form the bitter, galling words; but a vision of that lovely face suddenly transformed with horror and disgust throttled the name in his throat."I am Bulan," he said, at last, quietly. "Bulan," repeated the girl. "Bulan. Why that is a native name. You are either an Englishman or an American. What is your true name?" "My name is Bulan," he insisted doggedly.
Virginia Maxon thought that he must have some good reason of his own for wishing to conceal his identity. At first she wondered if he could be a fugitive from justice--the perpetrator of some horrid crime, who dared not divulge his true name even in the remote fastness of a Bornean wilderness; but a glance at his frank and noble countenance drove every vestige of the traitorous thought from her mind. Her woman's intuition was sufficient guarantee of the nobility of his character."Then let me thank you, Mr. Bulan," she said, "for the service that you have rendered a strange and helpless woman." He smiled. "Just Bulan," he said. "There is no need for Miss or Mister in the savage jungle, Virginia." The girl flushed at the sudden and unexpected use of her given name, and was surprised that she was not offended. "How do you know my name?" she asked.
Bulan saw that he would get into deep water if he attempted to explain too much, and, as is ever the way, discovered that one deception had led him into another; so he determined to forestall future embarrassing queries by concocting a story immediately to explain his presence and his knowledge.
"I lived upon the island near your father's camp," he said. "I knew you all--by sight."
"They are dead, poor things," he replied, sadly. "Poor, hideous, unloved, unloving monsters--they gave up their lives for the daughter of the man who made them the awful, repulsive creatures that they were.""What do you mean?" cried the girl.
"I mean that all have been killed searching for you, and battling with your enemies. They were soulless creatures, but they loved the mean lives they gave up so bravely for you whose father was the author of their misery-- you owe a great deal to them, Virginia."
"Poor things," murmured the girl, "but yet they are better off, for without brains or souls there could be no happiness in life for them. My father did them a hideous wrong, but it was an unintentional wrong. His mind was crazed with dwelling upon the wonderful discovery he had made, and if he wronged them he contemplated a still more terrible wrong to be inflicted upon me, his daughter.""I do not understand," said Bulan.
"It was his intention to give me in marriage to one of his soulless monsters--to the one he called Number Thirteen. Oh, it is terrible even to think of the hideousness of it; but now they are all dead he cannot do it even though his poor mind, which seems well again, should suffer a relapse."
"Why do you loathe them so?" asked Bulan. "Is it because they are hideous, or because they are soulless?"
"Either fact were enough to make them repulsive," replied the girl, "but it is the fact that they were without souls that made them totally impossible-- one easily overlooks physical deformity, but the moral depravity that must be inherent in a creature without a soul must forever cut him off from intercourse with human beings.""And you think that regardless of their physical appearance the fact that they were without souls would have been apparent?" asked Bulan. "I am sure of it," cried Virginia. "I would know the moment I set my eyes upon a creature without a soul." With all the sorrow that was his, Bulan could scarce repress a smile, for it was quite evident either that it was impossible to perceive a soul, or else that he possessed one. "Just how do you distinguish the possessor of a soul?" he asked. The girl cast a quick glance up at him. "You are making fun of me," she said.
"Not at all," he replied. "I am just curious as to how souls make themselves apparent. I have seen men kill one another as beasts kill. I have seen one who was cruel to those within his power, yet they were all men with souls. I have seen eleven soulless monsters die to save the daughter of a man whom they believed had wronged them terribly--a man with a soul. How then am I to know what attributes denote the possession of the immortal spark? How am I to know whether or not I possess a soul?"Virginia smiled.
"You are courageous and honorable and chivalrous-- those are enough to warrant the belief that you have a soul, were it not apparent from your countenance that you are of the higher type of mankind," she said.
"I hope that you will never change your opinion of me, Virginia," said the man; but he knew that there lay before her a severe shock, and before him a great sorrow when they should come to where her father was and the girl should learn the truth concerning him.
That he did not himself tell her may be forgiven him, for he had only a life of misery to look forward to after she should know that he, too, was equally a soulless monster with the twelve that had preceded him to a merciful death. He would have envied them but for the anticipation of the time that he might be alone with her before she learned the truth. As he pondered the future there came to him the thought that should they never find Professor Maxon or von Horn the girl need never know but that he was a human being. He need not lose her then, but always be near her. The idea grew and with it the mighty temptation to lead Virginia Maxon far into the jungle, and keep her forever from the sight of men. And why not? Had he not saved her where others had failed? Was she not, by all that was just and fair, his?
Did he owe any loyalty to either her father or von Horn? Already he had saved Professor Maxon's life, so the obligation, if there was any, lay all against the older man; and three times he had saved Virginia. He would be very kind and good to her. She should be much happier and a thousand times safer than with those others who were so poorly equipped to protect her.
As he stood silently gazing out across the jungle beneath them toward the new sun the girl watched him in a spell of admiration of his strong and noble face, and his perfect physique. What would have been her emotions had she guessed what thoughts were his! It was she who broke the silence."Can you find the way to the long-house where my father is?" she asked.
Bulan, startled at the question, looked up from his reverie. The thing must be faced, then, sooner than he thought. How was he to tell her of his intention? It occurred to him to sound her first--possibly she would make no objection to the plan."You are anxious to return?" he asked.
"Why, yes, of course, I am," she replied. "My father will be half mad with apprehension, until he knows that I am safe. What a strange question, indeed." Still, however, she did not doubt the motives of her companion."Suppose we should be unable to find our way to the long-house?" he continued.
"Oh, don't say such a thing," cried the girl. "It would be terrible. I should die of misery and fright and loneliness in this awful jungle. Surely you can find your way to the river-- it was but a short march through the jungle from where we landed to the spot at which you took me away from that fearful Malay."
The girl's words cast a cloud over Bulan's hopes. The future looked less roseate with the knowledge that she would be unhappy in the life that he had been mapping for them. He was silent--thinking. In his breast a riot of conflicting emotions were waging the first great battle which was to point the trend of the man's character--would the selfish and the base prevail, or would the noble?
With the thought of losing her his desire for her companionship became almost a mania. To return her to her father and von Horn would be to lose her-- of that there could be no doubt, for they would not leave her long in ignorance of his origin. Then, in addition to being deprived of her forever, he must suffer the galling mortification of her scorn.
It was a great deal to ask of a fledgling morality that was yet scarcely cognizant of its untried wings; but even as the man wavered between right and wrong there crept into his mind the one great and burning question of his life--had he a soul? And he knew that upon his decision of the fate of Virginia Maxon rested to some extent the true answer to that question, for, unconsciously, he had worked out his own crude soul hypothesis which imparted to this invisible entity the power to direct his actions only for good. Therefore he reasoned that wickedness presupposed a small and worthless soul, or the entire lack of one.
That she would hate a soulless creature he accepted as a foregone conclusion. He desired her respect, and that fact helped him to his final decision, but the thing that decided him was born of the truly chivalrous nature he possessed--he wanted Virginia Maxon to be happy; it mattered not at what cost to him.
The girl had been watching him closely as he stood silently thinking after her last words. She did not know the struggle that the calm face hid; yet she felt that the dragging moments were big with the question of her fate."Well?" she said at length.
"We must eat first," he replied in a matter-of-fact tone, and not at all as though he was about to renounce his life's happiness, "and then we shall set out in search of your father. I shall take you to him, Virginia, if man can find him.""I knew that you could," she said, simply, "but how my father and I ever can repay you I do not know--do you?" "Yes," said Bulan, and there was a sudden rush of fire to his eyes that kept Virginia Maxon from urging a detailed explanation of just how she might repay him.
In truth she did not know whether to be angry, or frightened, or glad of the truth that she read there; or mortified that it had awakened in her a realization that possibly an analysis of her own interest in this young stranger might reveal more than she had imagined.
The constraint that suddenly fell upon them was relieved when Bulan motioned her to follow him back down the trail into the gorge in search of food. There they sat together upon a fallen tree beside a tiny rivulet, eating the fruit that the man gathered. Often their eyes met as they talked, but always the girl's fell before the open worship of the man's.
Many were the men who had looked in admiration at Virginia Maxon in the past, but never, she felt, with eyes so clean and brave and honest. There was no guile or evil in them, and because of it she wondered all the more that she could not face them. "What a wonderful soul those eyes portray," she thought, "and how perfectly they assure the safety of my life and honor while their owner is near me."And the man thought: "Would that I owned a soul that I might aspire to live always near her--always to protect her."
When they had eaten the two set out once more in search of the river, and the confidence that is born of ignorance was theirs, so that beyond each succeeding tangled barrier of vines and creepers they looked to see the swirling stream that would lead them to the girl's father.
On and on they trudged, the man often carrying the girl across the rougher obstacles and through the little streams that crossed their path, until at last came noon, and yet no sign of the river they sought. The combined jungle craft of the two had been insufficient either to trace the way that they had come, or point the general direction of the river.
As the afternoon drew to a close Virginia Maxon commenced to lose heart--she was confident that they were lost. Bulan made no pretence of knowing the way, the most that he would say being that eventually they must come to the river. As a matter-of-fact had it not been for the girl's evident concern he would have been glad to know that they were irretrievably lost; but for her sake his efforts to find the river were conscientious.
When at last night closed down upon them the girl was, at heart, terror stricken, but she hid her true state from the man, because she knew that their plight was no fault of his. The strange and uncanny noises of the jungle night filled her with the most dreadful forebodings, and when a cold, drizzling rain set in upon them her cup of misery was full.
Bulan rigged a rude shelter for her, making her lie down beneath it, and then he removed his Dyak war-coat and threw it over her, but it was hours before her exhausted body overpowered her nervous fright and won a fitful and restless slumber. Several times Virginia became obsessed with the idea that Bulan had left her alone there in the jungle, but when she called his name he answered from close beside her shelter.
She thought that he had reared another for himself nearby, but even the thought that he might sleep filled her with dread, yet she would not call to him again, since she knew that he needed his rest even more than she. And all the night Bulan stood close beside the woman he had learned to love-- stood almost naked in the chill night air and the cold rain, lest some savage man or beast creep out of the darkness after her while he slept.
The next day with its night, and the next, and the next were but repetitions of the first. It had become an agony of suffering for the man to fight off sleep longer. The girl read part of the truth in his heavy eyes and worn face, and tried to force him to take needed rest, but she did not guess that he had not slept for four days and nights.
At last abused Nature succumbed to the terrific strain that had been put upon her, and the giant constitution of the man went down before the cold and the wet, weakened and impoverished by loss of sleep and insufficient food; for through the last two days he had been able to find but little, and that little he had given to the girl, telling her that he had eaten his fill while he gathered hers.
It was on the fifth morning, when Virginia awoke, that she found Bulan rolling and tossing upon the wet ground before her shelter, delirious with fever. At the sight of the mighty figure reduced to pitiable inefficiency and weakness, despite the knowledge that her protector could no longer protect, the fear of the jungle faded from the heart of the young girl--she was no more a weak and trembling daughter of an effete civilization. Instead she was a lioness, watching over and protecting her sick mate. The analogy did not occur to her, but something else did as she saw the flushed face and fever wracked body of the man whose appeal to her she would have thought purely physical had she given the subject any analytic consideration; and as a realization of his utter helplessness came to her she bent over him and kissed first his forehead and then his lips.
"What a noble and unselfish love yours has been," she murmured. "You have even tried to hide it that my position might be the easier to bear, and now that it may be too late I learn that I love you--that I have always loved you. Oh, Bulan, my Bulan, what a cruel fate that permitted us to find one another only to die together!"
Chapter 16. Sing Speaks
For a week Professor Maxon with von Horn and Sing sought for Virginia. They could get no help from the natives of the long-house, who feared the vengeance of Muda Saffir should he learn that they had aided the white men upon his trail.
And always as the three hunted through the jungle and up and down the river there lurked ever near a handful of the men of the tribe of the two whom von Horn had murdered, waiting for the chance that would give them revenge and the heads of the three they followed. They feared the guns of the white men too much to venture an open attack, and at night the quarry never abated their watchfulness, so that days dragged on, and still the three continued their hopeless quest unconscious of the relentless foe that dogged their footsteps.
Von Horn was always searching for an opportunity to enlist the aid of the friendly natives in an effort to regain the chest, but so far he had found none who would agree to accompany him even in consideration of a large share of the booty. It was the treasure alone which kept him to the search for Virginia Maxon, and he made it a point to direct the hunt always in the vicinity of the spot where it was buried, for a great fear consumed him that Ninaka might return and claim it before he had a chance to make away with it.
Three times during the week they returned and slept at the long-house, hoping each time to learn that the natives had received some news of her they sought, through the wonderful channels of communication that seemed always open across the trackless jungle and up and down the savage, lonely rivers.
For two days Bulan lay raving in the delirium of fever, while the delicate girl, unused to hardship and exposure, watched over him and nursed him with the loving tenderness and care of a young mother with her first born.
For the most part the young giant's ravings were inarticulate, but now and then Virginia heard her name linked with words of reverence and worship. The man fought again the recent battles he had passed through, and again suffered the long night watches beside the sleeping girl who filled his heart. Then it was that she learned the truth of his selfsacrificing devotion. The thing that puzzled her most was the repetition of a number and a name which ran through all his delirium-- "Nine ninety nine Priscilla."
She could make neither head nor tail of it, nor was there another word to give a clue to its meaning, so at last from constant repetition it became a commonplace and she gave it no further thought.
The girl had given up hope that Bulan ever could recover, so weak and emaciated had he become, and when the fever finally left him quite suddenly she was positive that it was the beginning of the end. It was on the morning of the seventh day since they had commenced their wandering in search of the long-house that, as she sat watching him, she saw his eyes resting upon her face with a look of recognition.Gently she took his hand, and at the act he smiled at her very weakly. "You are better, Bulan," she said. "You have been very sick, but now you shall soon be well again." She did not believe her own words, yet the mere saying of them gave her renewed hope. "Yes," replied the man. "I shall soon be well again. How long have I been like this?" "For two days," she replied. "And you have watched over me alone in the jungle for two days?" he asked incredulously. "Had it been for life," she said in a low voice, "it would scarce have repaid the debt I owe you." For a long time he lay looking up into her eyes-- longingly, wistfully. "I wish that it had been for life," he said. At first she did not quite realize what he meant, but presently the tired and hopeless expression of his eyes brought to her a sudden knowledge of his meaning. "Oh, Bulan," she cried, "you must not say that. Why should you wish to die?" "Because I love you, Virginia," he replied. "And because, when you know what I am, you will hate and loathe me."
On the girl's lips was an avowal of her own love, but as she bent closer to whisper the words in his ear there came the sound of men crashing through the jungle, and as she turned to face the peril that she thought approaching, von Horn sprang into view, while directly behind him came her father and Sing Lee.
Bulan saw them at the same instant, and as Virginia ran forward to greet her father he staggered weakly to his feet. Von Horn was the first to see the young giant, and with an oath sprang toward him, drawing his revolver as he came."You beast," he cried. "We have caught you at last." At the words Virginia turned back toward Bulan with a little scream of warning and of horror. Professor Maxon was behind her. "Shoot the monster, von Horn," he ordered. "Do not let him escape." Bulan drew himself to his full height, and though he wavered from weakness, yet he towered mighty and magnificent above the evil faced man who menaced him. "Shoot!" he said calmly. "Death cannot come too soon now." At the same instant von Horn pulled the trigger. The giant's head fell back, he staggered, whirled about, and crumpled to the earth just as Virginia Maxon's arms closed about him.
Von Horn rushed close and pushing the girl aside pressed the muzzle of his gun to Bulan's temple, but an avalanche of wrinkled, yellow skin was upon him before he could pull the trigger a second time, and Sing had hurled him back a dozen feet and snatched his weapon.
Moaning and sobbing Virginia threw herself upon the body of the man she loved, while Professor Maxon hurried to her side to drag her away from the soulless thing for whom he had once intended her.Like a tigress the girl turned upon the two white men.
"You are murderers," she cried. "Cowardly murderers. Weak and exhausted by fever he could not combat you, and so you have robbed the world of one of the noblest men that God ever created.""Hush!" cried Professor Maxon. "Hush, child, you do not know what you say. The thing was a monster-- a soulless monster." At the words the girl looked up quickly at her father, a faint realization of his meaning striking her like a blow in the face. "What do you mean?" she whispered. "Who was he?" It was von Horn who answered.
"No god created that," he said, with a contemptuous glance at the still body of the man at their feet. "He was one of the creatures of your father's mad experiments--the soulless thing for whose arms his insane obsession doomed you. The thing at your feet, Virginia, was Number Thirteen."
With a piteous little moan the girl turned back toward the body of the young giant. A faltering step she took toward it, and then to the horror of her father she sank upon her knees beside it and lifting the man's head in her arms covered the face with kisses.
"Virginia!" cried the professor. "Are you mad, child?" "I am not mad," she moaned, "not yet. I love him. Man or monster, it would have been all the same to me, for I loved him."Her father turned away, burying his face in his hands. "God!" he muttered. "What an awful punishment you have visited upon me for the sin of the thing I did."
The silence which followed was broken by Sing who had kneeled opposite Virginia upon the other side of Bulan, where he was feeling the giant's wrists and pressing his ear close above his heart.
"Do'n cly, Linee," said the kindly old Chinaman. "Him no dlead." Then, as he poured a pinch of brownish powder into the man's mouth from a tiny sack he had brought forth from the depths of one of his sleeves: "Him no mlonster either, Linee. Him white man, alsame Mlaxon. Sing know."The girl looked up at him in gratitude. "He is not dead, Sing? He will live?" she cried. "I don't care about anything else, Sing, if you will only make him live." "Him live. Gettem lilee flesh wounds. Las all." "What do you mean by saying that he is not a monster?" demanded von Horn. "You waitee, you dam flool," cried Sing. "I tellee lot more I know. You waitee I flixee him, and then, by God, I flixee you." Von Horn took a menacing step toward the Chinaman, his face black with wrath, but Professor Maxon interposed.
"This has gone quite far enough, Doctor von Horn," he said. "It may be that we acted hastily. I do not know, of course, what Sing means, but I intend to find out. He has been very faithful to us, and deserves every consideration."
Von Horn stepped back, still scowling. Sing poured a little water between Bulan's lips, and then asked Professor Maxon for his brandy flask. With the first few drops of the fiery liquid the giant's eyelids moved, and a moment later he raised them and looked about him.The first face he saw was Virginia's. It was full of love and compassion.
"They have not told you yet?" he asked. "Yes," she replied. "They have told me, but it makes no difference. You have given me the right to say it, Bulan, and I do say it now again, before them all-- I love you, and that is all there is that makes any difference."A look of happiness lighted his face momentarily, only to fade as quickly as it had come.
"No, Virginia," he said, sadly, "it would not be right. It would be wicked. I am not a human being. I am only a soulless monster. You cannot mate with such as I. You must go away with your father. Soon you will forget me.""Never, Bulan!" cried the girl, determinedly. The man was about to attempt to dissuade her, when Sing interrupted.
"You keepee still, Bulan," he said. "You wait till Sing tellee. You no mlonster. Mlaxon he no makee you. Sing he find you in low bloat jus' outsidee cove. You dummy. No know nothing. No know namee. No know where comee from. No talkee.
"Sing he jes' hearee Mlaxon tellee Hornee 'bout Nlumber Thlirteen. How he makee him for Linee. Makee Linee mally him. Sing he know what kindee fleaks Mlaxon makee. Linee always good to old Sing. Sing he been peeking thlu clack in wallee. See blig vlat where Thlirteen growing.
"Sing he takee you to Sing's shackee that night. Hide you till evlybody sleep. Then he sneak you in workee shop. Kickee over vlat. Leaves you. Nex' mlorning Mlaxon makee blig hulabaloo. Dance up and downee. Whoop! Thlirteen clome too soonee, but allight; him finee, perfec' man. Whoop!"Anyway, you heap better for Linee than one Mlaxon's fleaks," he concluded, turning toward Bulan. "You are lying, you yellow devil," cried von Horn. The Chinaman turned his shrewd, slant eyes malevolently upon the doctor.
"Sing lies?" he hissed. "Mabbeso Sing lies when he ask what for you glet Bludleen steal tleasure. But Lajah Saffir he come and spoil it all while you tly glet Linee to the ship-Sing knows."Then you tellee Mlaxon Thlirteen steal Linee. You lie then and you knew you lie. You lie again when Thlirteen savee Linee flom Oulang Outang-- you say you savee Linee. "Then you make bad talkee with Lajah Saffir at long-house. Sing hear you all timee. You tly getee tleasure away from Dlyaks for your self. Then--"
"Stop!" roared von Horn. "Stop! You lying yellow sneak, before I put a bullet in you." "Both of you may stop now," said Professor Maxon authoritatively. "There have been charges made here that cannot go unnoticed. Can you prove these things Sing?" he asked turning to the Chinaman.
"I plove much by Bludleen's lascar. Bludleen tell him all 'bout Hornee. I plove some more by Dyak chief at long-house. He knows lots. Lajah Saffir tell him. It all tlue, Mlaxon.""And it is true about this man--the thing that you have told us is true? He is not one of those created in the laboratory?"
"No, Mlaxon. You no makee fine young man like Blulan-- you know lat, Mlaxon. You makee One, Two, Thlee-- all up to Twelve. All fleaks. You ought to know, Mlaxon, lat you no can makee a Blulan."
During these revelations Bulan had sat with his eyes fixed upon the Chinaman. There was a puzzled expression upon his wan, blood-streaked face. It was as though he were trying to wrest from the inner temple of his consciousness a vague and tantalizing memory that eluded him each time that he felt he had it within his grasp--the key to the strange riddle that hid his origin.
The girl kneeled close beside him, one small hand in his. Hope and happiness had supplanted the sorrow in her face. She tore the hem from her skirt, to bandage the bloody furrow that creased the man's temple. Professor Maxon stood silently by, watching the loving tenderness that marked each deft, little movement of her strong, brown hands.
The revelations of the past few minutes had shocked the old man into stupefied silence. It was difficult, almost impossible, for him to believe that Sing had spoken the truth and that this man was not one of the creatures of his own creation; yet from the bottom of his heart he prayed that it might prove the truth, for he saw that his daughter loved the man with a love that would be stayed by no obstacle or bound by no man-made law, or social custom.
The Chinaman's indictment of von Horn had come as an added blow to Professor Maxon, but it had brought its own supporting evidence in the flood of recollections it had induced in the professor's mind. Now he recalled a hundred chance incidents and conversations with his assistant that pointed squarely toward the man's disloyalty and villainy. He wondered that he had been so blind as not to have suspected his lieutenant long before.
Virginia had at last succeeded in adjusting her rude bandage and stopping the flow of blood. Bulan had risen weakly to his feet. The girl supported him upon one side, and Sing upon the other. Professor Maxon approached the little group."I do not know what to make of all that Sing has told us," he said. "If you are not Number
Thirteen who are you? Where did you come from? It seems very strange indeed-- impossible, in fact. However, if you will explain who you are, I shall be glad to--ah-consider--ah--permitting you to pay court to my daughter."
"I do not know who I am," replied Bulan. "I had always thought that I was only Number Thirteen, until Sing just spoke. Now I have a faint recollection of drifting for days upon the sea in an open boat-- beyond that all is blank. I shall not force my attentions upon Virginia until I can prove my identity, and that my past is one which I can lay before her without shame --until then I shall not see her."
"You shall do nothing of the kind," cried the girl. "You love me, and I you. My father intended to force me to marry you while he still thought that you were a soulless thing. Now that it is quite apparent that you are a human being, and a gentleman, he hesitates, but I do not. As I have told you before, it makes no difference to me what you are. You have told me that you love me. You have demonstrated a love that is high, and noble, and self-sacrificing. More than that no girl needs to know. I am satisfied to be the wife of Bulan-- if Bulan is satisfied to have the daughter of the man who has so cruelly wronged him."An arm went around the girl's shoulders and drew her close to the man she had glorified with her loyalty and her love. The other hand was stretched out toward Professor Maxon.
"Professor," said Bulan, "in the face of what Sing has told us, in the face of a disinterested comparison between myself and the miserable creatures of your experiments, is it not folly to suppose that I am one of them? Some day I shall recall my past, until that time shall prove my worthiness I shall not ask for Virginia's hand, and in this decision she must concur, for the truth might reveal some insurmountable obstacle to our marriage. In the meantime let us be friends, professor, for we are both actuated by the same desire-- the welfare and happiness of your daughter."The old man stepped forward and took Bulan's hand. The expression of doubt and worry had left his face. "I cannot believe," he said, "that you are other than a gentleman, and if, in my desire to protect Virginia, I have said aught to wound you I ask your forgiveness." Bulan responded only with a tighter pressure of the hand.
"And now," said the professor, "let us return to the long-house. I wish to have a few words in private with you, von Horn," and he turned to face his assistant, but the man had disappeared."Where is Doctor von Horn?" exclaimed the scientist, addressing Sing.
"Hornee, him vamoose long time 'go," replied the Chinaman. "He hear all he likee." Slowly the little party wound along the jungle trail, and in less than a mile, to Virginia's infinite surprise, came out upon the river and the long-house that she and Bulan had searched for in vain."And to think," she cried, "that all these awful days we have been almost within sound of your voices. What strange freak of fate sent you to us today?"
"We had about given up hope," replied her father, "when Sing suggested to me that we cut across the highlands that separate this valley from the one adjoining it upon the northeast, where we should strike other tribes and from them glean some clue to your whereabouts in case your abductors had attempted to carry you back to the sea by another route. This seemed likely in view of the fact that we were assured by enemies of Muda Saffir that you were not in his possession, and that the river we were bound for would lead your captors most quickly out of the domains of that rascally Malay. You may imagine our surprise, Virginia, when after proceeding for but a mile we discovered you."
No sooner had the party entered the verandah of the long-house than Professor Maxon made inquiries for von Horn, only to learn that he had departed up stream in a prahu with several warriors whom he had engaged to accompany him on a "hunting expedition," having explained that the white girl had been found and was being brought to the longhouse.
The chief further explained that he had done his best to dissuade the white man from so rash an act, as he was going directly into the country of the tribe of the two men he had killed, and there was little chance that he ever would come out alive.
While they were still discussing von Horn's act, and wondering at his intentions, a native on the verandah cried out in astonishment, pointing down the river. As they looked in the direction he indicated all saw a graceful, white cutter gliding around a nearby turn. At the oars were white clad American sailors, and in the stern two officers in the uniform of the United States navy.
Chapter 17. 999 Priscilla
As the cutter touched the bank the entire party from the long-house, whites and natives, were gathered on the shore to meet it. At first the officers held off as though fearing a hostile demonstration, but when they saw the whites among the throng, a command was given to pull in, and a moment later one of the officers stepped ashore."I am Lieutenant May," he said, "of the U.S.S. New Mexico, flagship of the Pacific Fleet. Have I the honor to address Professor Maxon?" The scientist nodded. "I am delighted," he said.
"We have been to your island, Professor," continued the officer, "and judging from the evidences of hasty departure, and the corpses of several natives there, I feared that some harm had befallen you. We therefore cruised along the Bornean coast making inquiries of the natives until at last we found one who had heard a rumor of a party of whites being far in the interior searching for a white girl who had been stolen from them by pirates.
"The farther up this river we have come the greater our assurance that we were on the right trail, for scarcely a native we interrogated but had seen or heard of some of your party. Mixed with the truth they told us were strange tales of terrible monsters led by a gigantic white man.""The imaginings of childish minds," said the professor. "However, why, my dear lieutenant, did you honor me by visiting my island?" The officer hesitated a moment before answering, his eyes running about over the assembly as though in search of someone.
"Well, Professor Maxon, to be quite frank," he said at length, "we learned at Singapore the personnel of your party, which included a former naval officer whom we have been seeking for many years. We came to your island to arrest this man-- I refer to Doctor Carl von Horn."
When the lieutenant learned of the recent disappearance of the man he sought, he expressed his determination to push on at once in pursuit; and as Professor Maxon feared again to remain unprotected in the heart of the Bornean wilderness his entire party was taken aboard the cutter.
A few miles up the river they came upon one of the Dyaks who had accompanied von Horn, a few hours earlier. The warrior sat smoking beside a beached prahu. When interrogated he explained that von Horn and the balance of his crew had gone inland, leaving him to guard the boat. He said that he thought he could guide them to the spot where the white man might be found.
Professor Maxon and Sing accompanied one of the officers and a dozen sailors in the wake of the Dyak guide. Virginia and Bulan remained in the cutter, as the latter was still too weak to attempt the hard march through the jungle. For an hour the party traversed the trail in the wake of von Horn and his savage companions. They had come almost to the spot when their ears were assailed by the weird and blood curdling yells of native warriors, and a moment later von Horn's escort dashed into view in full retreat.
At sight of the white men they halted in relief, pointing back in the direction they had come, and jabbering excitedly in their native tongue. Warily the party advanced again behind these new guides; but when they reached the spot they sought, the cause of the Dyaks' panic had fled, warned, doubtless, by their trained ears of the approach of an enemy.
The sight that met the eyes of the searchers told all of the story that they needed to know. A hole had been excavated in the ground, partially uncovering a heavy chest, and across this chest lay the headless body of Doctor Carl von Horn.Lieutenant May turned toward Professor Maxon with a questioning look. "It is he," said the scientist. "But the chest?" inquired the officer. "Mlaxon's tleasure," spoke up Sing Lee. "Hornee him tly steal it for long time."
"Treasure!" ejaculated the professor. "Bududreen gave up his life for this. Rajah Muda Saffir fought and intrigued and murdered for possession of it! Poor, misguided von Horn has died for it, and left his head to wither beneath the rafters of a Dyak long-house! It is incredible.""But, Professor Maxon," said Lieutenant May, "men will suffer all these things and more for gold." "Gold!" cried the professor. "Why, man, that is a box of books on biology and eugenics."
"My God!" exclaimed May, "and von Horn was accredited to be one of the shrewdest swindlers and adventurers in America! But come, we may as well return to the cutter--my men will carry the chest."
"No!" exclaimed Professor Maxon with a vehemence the other could not understand. "Let them bury it again where it lies. It and what it contains have been the cause of sufficient misery and suffering and crime. Let it lie where it is in the heart of savage Borneo, and pray to God that no man ever finds it, and that I shall forget forever that which is in it." On the morning of the third day following the death of von Horn the New Mexico steamed away from the coast of Borneo. Upon her deck, looking back toward the verdure clad hills, stood Virginia and Bulan."Thank heaven," exclaimed the girl fervently, "that we are leaving it behind us forever." "Amen," replied Bulan, "but yet, had it not been for Borneo I might never have found you."
"We should have met elsewhere then, Bulan," said the girl in a low voice, "for we were made for one another. No power on earth could have kept us apart. In your true guise you would have found me--I am sure of it."
"It is maddening, Virginia," said the man, "to be constantly straining every resource of my memory in futile endeavor to catch and hold one fleeting clue to my past. Why, dear, do you realize that I may have been a fugitive from justice, as was von Horn, a vile criminal perhaps. It is awful, Virginia, to contemplate the horrible possibilities of my lost past."
"No, Bulan, you could never have been a criminal," replied the loyal girl, "but there is one possibility that has been haunting me constantly. It frightens me just to think of it--it is," and the girl lowered her voice as though she feared to say the thing she dreaded most, "it is that you may have loved another--that-- that you may even be married."
Bulan was about to laugh away any such fears when the gravity and importance of the possibility impressed him quite as fully as it had Virginia. He saw that it was not at all unlikely that he was already a married man; and he saw too what the girl now acknowledged, that they might never wed until the mystery of his past had been cleared away.
"There is something that gives weight to my fear," continued Virginia, "something that I had almost forgotten in the rush and excitement of events during the past few days. During your delirium your ravings were, for the most part, quite incoherent, but there was one name that you repeated many times--a woman's name, preceded by a number. It was `Nine ninety nine Priscilla.' Maybe she--"But Virginia got no further. With a low exclamation of delight Bulan caught her in his arms.
"It is all right, dear," he cried. "It is all right. Everything has come back to me now. You have given me the clue. Nine ninety nine Priscilla is my father's address--Nine ninety nine Priscilla Avenue.
"I am Townsend J. Harper, Jr. You have heard of my father. Every one has since he commenced consolidating interurban traction companies. And I'm not married, Virginia, and never have been; but I shall be if this miserable old mud scow ever reaches Singapore.""Oh, Bulan," cried the girl, "how in the world did you ever happen to come to that terrible island of ours?"
"I came for you, dear," he replied. "It is a long story. After dinner I will tell you all of it that I can recall. For the present it must suffice you to know that I followed you from the railway station at Ithaca half around the world for a love that had been born from a single glance at your sweet face as you passed me to enter your Pullman.
"On my father's yacht I reached your island after trailing you to Singapore. It was a long and tedious hunt and we followed many blind leads, but at last we came off an island upon which natives had told us such a party as yours was living. Five of us put off in a boat to explore--that is the last that I can recall. Sing says he found me alone in a row boat, a `dummy.'"Virginia sighed, and crept closer to him.
"You may be the son of the great Townsend J. Harper, you have been the soulless Number Thirteen; but to me you will always be Bulan, for it was Bulan whom I learned to love."