VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Beauty And The Beast







From: The Monster Men

One day, about two weeks later, von Horn and the professor were
occupied closely with their work in the court of mystery. Developments
were coming in riotous confusion. A recent startling discovery bade
fare to simplify and expedite the work far beyond the fondest dreams of
the scientist.

Von Horn's interest in the marvellous results that had been obtained
was little short of the professor's--but he foresaw a very different
outcome of it all, and by day never moved without a gun at either hip,
and by night both of them were beside him.

Sing Lee, the noonday meal having been disposed of, set forth with rod,
string and bait to snare gulls upon the beach. He moved quietly
through the jungle, his sharp eyes and ears always alert for anything
that might savor of the unusual, and so it was that he saw the two men
upon the beach, while they did not see him at all.

They were Bududreen and the same tall Malay whom Sing had seen twice
before--once in splendid raiment and commanding the pirate prahu, and
again as a simple boatman come to the Ithaca to trade, but without the
goods to carry out his professed intentions.

The two squatted on the beach at the edge of the jungle a short
distance above the point at which Sing had been about to emerge when he
discovered them, so that it was but the work of a moment or two for the
Chinaman to creep stealthily through the dense underbrush to a point
directly above them and not three yards from where they conversed in
low tones--yet sufficiently loud that Sing missed not a word.

"I tell you, Bududreen, that it will be quite safe," the tall Malay was
saying. "You yourself tell me that none knows of the whereabouts of
these white men, and if they do not return your word will be accepted
as to their fate. Your reward will be great if you bring the girl to
me, and if you doubt the loyalty of any of your own people a kris will
silence them as effectually as it will silence the white men."

"It is not fear of the white men, oh, Rajah Muda Saffir, that deters
me," said Bududreen, "but how shall I know that after I have come to
your country with the girl I shall not myself be set upon and silenced
with a golden kris--there be many that will be jealous of the great
service I have done for the mighty rajah."

Muda Saffir knew perfectly well that Bududreen had but diplomatically
expressed a fear as to his own royal trustworthiness, but it did not
anger him, since the charge was not a direct one; but what he did not
know was of the heavy chest and Bududreen's desire to win the price of
the girl and yet be able to save for himself a chance at the far
greater fortune which he knew lay beneath that heavy oaken lid.

Both men had arisen now and were walking across the beach toward a
small, native canoe in which Muda Saffir had come to the meeting place.
They were out of earshot before either spoke again, so that what
further passed between them Sing could not even guess, but he had heard
enough to confirm the suspicions he had entertained for a long while.

He did not fish for gulls that day. Bududreen and Muda Saffir stood
talking upon the beach, and the Chinaman did not dare venture forth for
fear they might suspect that he had overheard them. If old Sing Lee
knew his Malays, he was also wise enough to give them credit for
knowing their Chinamen, so he waited quietly in hiding until Muda
Saffir had left, and Bududreen returned to camp.


Professor Maxon and von Horn were standing over one of the six vats
that were arranged in two rows down the center of the laboratory. The
professor had been more communicative and agreeable today than for some
time past, and their conversation had assumed more of the familiarity
that had marked it during the first month of their acquaintance at
Singapore.

"And what of these first who are so imperfect?" asked von Horn. "You
cannot take them into civilization, nor would it be right to leave them
here upon this island. What will you do with them?"

Professor Maxon pondered the question for a moment.

"I have given the matter but little thought," he said at length. "They
are but the accidents of my great work. It is unfortunate that they
are as they are, but without them I could have never reached the
perfection that I am sure we are to find here," and he tapped lovingly
upon the heavy glass cover of the vat before which he stood. "And this
is but the beginning. There can be no more mistakes now, though I
doubt if we can ever improve upon that which is so rapidly developing
here." Again he passed his long, slender hand caressingly over the
coffin-like vat at the head of which was a placard bearing the words,
NUMBER THIRTEEN.

"But the others, Professor!" insisted von Horn. "We must decide.
Already they have become a problem of no small dimensions. Yesterday
Number Five desired some plantains that I had given to Number Seven. I
tried to reason with him, but, as you know, he is mentally defective,
and for answer he rushed at Number Seven to tear the coveted morsel
from him. The result was a battle royal that might have put to shame
two Bengal tigers. Twelve is tractable and intelligent. With his
assistance and my bull whip I succeeded in separating them before
either was killed. Your greatest error was in striving at first for
such physical perfection. You have overdone it, with the result that
the court of mystery is peopled by a dozen brutes of awful muscularity,
and scarcely enough brain among the dozen to equip three properly."

"They are as they are," replied the professor. "I shall do for them
what I can--when I am gone they must look to themselves. I can see no
way out of it."

"What you have given you may take away," said von Horn, in a low tone.

Professor Maxon shuddered. Those three horrid days in the workshop at
Ithaca flooded his memory with all the gruesome details he had tried
for so many months to forget. The haunting ghosts of the mental
anguish that had left him an altered man--so altered that there were
times when he had feared for his sanity!

"No, no!" he almost shouted. "It would be murder. They are--"

"They are THINGS," interrupted von Horn. "They are not human--they are
not even beast. They are terrible, soulless creatures. You have no
right to permit them to live longer than to substantiate your theory.
None but us knows of their existence--no other need know of their
passing. It must be done. They are a constant and growing menace to
us all, but most of all to your daughter."

A cunning look came into the professor's eyes.

"I understand," he said. "The precedent once established, all must
perish by its edict--even those which may not be grotesque or
bestial--even this perfect one," and he touched again the vat, "and
thus you would rid yourself of rival suitors. But no!" he went on in a
high, trembling voice. "I shall not be led to thus compromise myself,
and be thwarted in my cherished plan. Be this one what he may he shall
wed my daughter!"

The man had raised himself upon his toes as he reached his climax--his
clenched hand was high above his head--his voice fairly thundered out
the final sentence, and with the last word he brought his fist down
upon the vat before him. In his eyes blazed the light of unchained
madness.

Von Horn was a brave man, but he shuddered at the maniacal ferocity of
the older man, and shrank back. The futility of argument was apparent,
and he turned and left the workshop.

Sing Lee was late that night. In fact he did not return from his
fruitless quest for gulls until well after dark, nor would he vouchsafe
any explanation of the consequent lateness of supper. Nor could he be
found shortly after the evening meal when Virginia sought him.

Not until the camp was wrapped in the quiet of slumber did Sing Lee
return--stealthy and mysterious--to creep under cover of a moonless
night to the door of the workshop. How he gained entrance only Sing
Lee knows, but a moment later there was a muffled crash of broken glass
within the laboratory, and the Chinaman had slipped out, relocked the
door, and scurried to his nearby shack. But there was no occasion for
his haste--no other ear than his had heard the sound within the
workshop.

It was almost nine the following morning before Professor Maxon and von
Horn entered the laboratory. Scarcely had the older man passed the
doorway than he drew up his hands in horrified consternation. Vat
Number Thirteen lay dashed to the floor--the glass cover was broken to
a million pieces--a sticky, brownish substance covered the matting.
Professor Maxon hid his face in his hands.

"God!" he cried. "It is all ruined. Three more days would have--"

"Look!" cried von Horn. "It is not too soon."

Professor Maxon mustered courage to raise his eyes from his hands, and
there he beheld, seated in a far corner of the room a handsome giant,
physically perfect. The creature looked about him in a dazed,
uncomprehending manner. A great question was writ large upon his
intelligent countenance. Professor Maxon stepped forward and took him
by the hand.

"Come," he said, and led him toward a smaller room off the main
workshop. The giant followed docilely, his eyes roving about the
room--the pitiful questioning still upon his handsome features. Von
Horn turned toward the campong.

Virginia, deserted by all, even the faithful Sing, who, cheated of his
sport on the preceding day, had again gone to the beach to snare gulls,
became restless of the enforced idleness and solitude. For a time she
wandered about the little compound which had been reserved for the
whites, but tiring of this she decided to extend her stroll beyond the
palisade, a thing which she had never before done unless accompanied by
von Horn--a thing both he and her father had cautioned her against.

"What danger can there be?" she thought. "We know that the island is
uninhabited by others than ourselves, and that there are no dangerous
beasts. And, anyway, there is no one now who seems to care what
becomes of me, unless--unless--I wonder if he does care. I wonder if I
care whether or not he cares. Oh, dear, I wish I knew," and as she
soliloquized she wandered past the little clearing and into the jungle
that lay behind the campong.


As von Horn and Professor Maxon talked together in the laboratory
before the upsetting of vat Number Thirteen, a grotesque and horrible
creature had slunk from the low shed at the opposite side of the
campong until it had crouched at the flimsy door of the building in
which the two men conversed. For a while it listened intently, but
when von Horn urged the necessity for dispatching certain "terrible,
soulless creatures" an expression of intermingled fear and hatred
convulsed the hideous features, and like a great grizzly it turned and
lumbered awkwardly across the campong toward the easterly, or back wall
of the enclosure.

Here it leaped futilely a half dozen times for the top of the palisade,
and then trembling and chattering in rage it ran back and forth along
the base of the obstacle, just as a wild beast in captivity paces
angrily before the bars of its cage.

Finally it paused to look once more at the senseless wood that barred
its escape, as though measuring the distance to the top. Then the eyes
roamed about the campong to rest at last upon the slanting roof of the
thatched shed which was its shelter. Presently a slow idea was born in
the poor, malformed brain.

The creature approached the shed. He could just reach the saplings
that formed the frame work of the roof. Like a huge sloth he drew
himself to the roof of the structure. From here he could see beyond
the palisade, and the wild freedom of the jungle called to him. He did
not know what it was but in its leafy wall he perceived many breaks and
openings that offered concealment from the creatures who were plotting
to take his life.

Yet the wall was not fully six feet from him, and the top of it at
least five feet above the top of the shed--those who had designed the
campong had been careful to set this structure sufficiently far from
the palisade to prevent its forming too easy an avenue of escape.

The creature glanced fearfully toward the workshop. He remembered the
cruel bull whip that always followed each new experiment on his part
that did not coincide with the desires of his master, and as he thought
of von Horn a nasty gleam shot his mismated eyes.

He tried to reach across the distance between the roof and the
palisade, and in the attempt lost his balance and nearly precipitated
himself to the ground below. Cautiously he drew back, still looking
about for some means to cross the chasm. One of the saplings of the
roof, protruding beyond the palm leaf thatch, caught his attention.
With a single wrench he tore it from its fastenings. Extending it
toward the palisade he discovered that it just spanned the gap, but he
dared not attempt to cross upon its single slender strand.

Quickly he ripped off a half dozen other poles from the roof, and
laying them side by side, formed a safe and easy path to freedom. A
moment more and he sat astride the top of the wall. Drawing the poles
after him, he dropped them one by one to the ground outside the
campong. Then he lowered himself to liberty.

Gathering the saplings under one huge arm he ran, lumberingly, into the
jungle. He would not leave evidence of the havoc he had wrought; the
fear of the bull whip was still strong upon him. The green foliage
closed about him and the peaceful jungle gave no sign of the horrid
brute that roamed its shadowed mazes.


As von Horn stepped into the campong his quick eye perceived the havoc
that had been wrought with the roof at the east end of the shed.
Quickly he crossed to the low structure. Within its compartments a
number of deformed monsters squatted upon their haunches, or lay prone
upon the native mats that covered the floor.

As the man entered they looked furtively at the bull whip which trailed
from his right hand, and then glanced fearfully at one another as
though questioning which was the malefactor on this occasion.

Von Horn ran his eyes over the hideous assemblage.

"Where is Number One?" he asked, directing his question toward a thing
whose forehead gave greater promise of intelligence than any of his
companions.

The one addressed shook his head.

Von Horn turned and made a circuit of the campong. There was no sign
of the missing one and no indication of any other irregularity than the
demolished portion of the roof. With an expression of mild concern
upon his face he entered the workshop.

"Number One has escaped into the jungle, Professor," he said.

Professor Maxon looked up in surprise, but before he had an opportunity
to reply a woman's scream, shrill with horror, smote upon their
startled ears.

Von Horn was the first to reach the campong of the whites. Professor
Maxon was close behind him, and the faces of both were white with
apprehension. The enclosure was deserted. Not even Sing was there.
Without a word the two men sprang through the gateway and raced for the
jungle in the direction from which that single, haunting cry had come.

Virginia Maxon, idling beneath the leafy shade of the tropical foliage,
became presently aware that she had wandered farther from the campong
than she had intended. The day was sultry, and the heat, even in the
dense shade of the jungle, oppressive. Slowly she retraced her steps,
her eyes upon the ground, her mind absorbed in sad consideration of her
father's increasing moodiness and eccentricity.

Possibly it was this very abstraction which deadened her senses to the
near approach of another. At any rate the girl's first intimation that
she was not alone came when she raised her eyes to look full into the
horrid countenance of a fearsome monster which blocked her path toward
camp.

The sudden shock brought a single involuntary scream from her lips.
And who can wonder! The thing thrust so unexpectedly before her eyes
was hideous in the extreme. A great mountain of deformed flesh clothed
in dirty, white cotton pajamas! Its face was of the ashen hue of a
fresh corpse, while the white hair and pink eyes denoted the absence of
pigment; a characteristic of albinos.

One eye was fully twice the diameter of the other, and an inch above
the horizontal plane of its tiny mate. The nose was but a gaping
orifice above a deformed and twisted mouth. The thing was chinless,
and its small, foreheadless head surrounded its colossal body like a
cannon ball on a hill top. One arm was at least twelve inches longer
than its mate, which was itself long in proportion to the torso, while
the legs, similarly mismated and terminating in huge, flat feet that
protruded laterally, caused the thing to lurch fearfully from side to
side as it lumbered toward the girl.

A sudden grimace lighted the frightful face as the grotesque eyes fell
upon this new creature. Number One had never before seen a woman, but
the sight of this one awoke in the unplumbed depths of his soulless
breast a great desire to lay his hands upon her. She was very
beautiful. Number One wished to have her for his very own; nor would
it be a difficult matter, so fragile was she, to gather her up in those
great, brute arms and carry her deep into the jungle far out of hearing
of the bull-whip man and the cold, frowning one who was continually
measuring and weighing Number One and his companions, the while he
scrutinized them with those strange, glittering eyes that frightened
one even more than the cruel lash of the bull whip.

Number One lurched forward, his arms outstretched toward the horror
stricken girl. Virginia tried to cry out again--she tried to turn and
run; but the horror of her impending fate and the terror that those
awful features induced left her paralyzed and helpless.

The thing was almost upon her now. The mouth was wide in a hideous
attempt to smile. The great hands would grasp her in another
second--and then there was a sudden crashing of the underbrush behind
her, a yellow, wrinkled face and a flying pig-tail shot past her, and
the brave old Sing Lee grappled with the mighty monster that threatened
her.

The battle was short--short and terrible. The valiant Chinaman sought
the ashen throat of his antagonist, but his wiry, sinewy muscles were
as reeds beneath the force of that inhuman power that opposed them.
Holding the girl at arm's length in one hand, Number One tore the
battling Chinaman from him with the other, and lifting him bodily above
his head, hurled him stunned and bleeding against the bole of a giant
buttress tree. Then lifting Virginia in his arms once more he dived
into the impenetrable mazes of the jungle that lined the more open
pathway between the beach and camp.





Next: A New Face

Previous: The Heavy Chest



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 442