Copyright
Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Monster Men online

. (page 8 of 14)
Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Monster Men → online text (page 8 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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?"

"You forget Number Thirteen," suggested the doctor.

"But the chest!" expostulated the other. "What in the world would he
want of that enormous and heavy chest?"

"He might have thought that it contained treasure," hazarded von Horn,
in an innocent tone of voice.

"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.



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


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Monster Men → online text (page 8 of 14)