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Man Or Monster?

From: The Monster Men

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

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

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

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?

Next: Too Late

Previous: Buried Treasure

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