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Desperate Chance

From: The Monster Men

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

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

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

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.

Next: I Am Coming!

Previous: Into Savage Borneo

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