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The Heavy Chest







From: The Monster Men

Virginia and Sing were compelled to narrate the adventure of the
afternoon a dozen times. The Chinaman was at a loss to understand what
had deterred the pirates at the very threshold of victory. Von Horn
thought that they had seen the reinforcements embarking from the shore,
but Sing explained that that was impossible since the Ithaca had been
directly between them and the point at which the returning crew had
entered the boats.

Virginia was positive that her fusillade had frightened them into a
hasty retreat, but again Sing discouraged any such idea when he pointed
to the fact that another instant would have carried the prahu close to
the Ithaca's side and out of the machine gun's radius of action.

The old Chinaman was positive that the pirates had some ulterior motive
for simulating defeat, and his long years of experience upon pirate
infested waters gave weight to his opinion. The weak spot in his
argument was his inability to suggest a reasonable motive. And so it
was that for a long time they were left to futile conjecture as to the
action that had saved them from a bloody encounter with these
bloodthirsty sea wolves.

For a week the men were busy constructing the new camp, but never again
was Virginia left without a sufficient guard for her protection. Von
Horn was always needed at the work, for to him had fallen the entire
direction of matters of importance that were at all of a practical
nature. Professor Maxon wished to watch the building of the houses and
the stockade, that he might offer such suggestions as he thought
necessary, and again the girl noticed her father's comparative
indifference to her welfare.

She had been shocked at his apathy at the time of the pirate attack,
and chagrined that it should have been necessary for von Horn to have
insisted upon a proper guard being left with her thereafter.

The nearer the approach of the time when he might enter again upon
those experiments which had now been neglected for the better part of a
year the more self absorbed and moody became the professor. At times
he was scarcely civil to those about him, and never now did he have a
pleasant word or a caress for the daughter who had been his whole life
but a few short months before.

It often seemed to Virginia when she caught her father's eyes upon her
that there was a gleam of dislike in them, as though he would have been
glad to have been rid of her that she might not in any way embarrass or
interfere with his work.

The camp was at last completed, and on a Saturday afternoon all the
heavier articles from the ship had been transported to it. On the
following Monday the balance of the goods was to be sent on shore and
the party were to transfer their residence to their new quarters.

Late Sunday afternoon a small native boat was seen rounding the point
at the harbor's southern extremity, and after a few minutes it drew
alongside the Ithaca. There were but three men in it--two Dyaks and a
Malay. The latter was a tall, well built man of middle age, of a
sullen and degraded countenance. His garmenture was that of the
ordinary Malay boatman, but there was that in his mien and his attitude
toward his companions which belied his lowly habiliments.

In answer to von Horn's hail the man asked if he might come aboard and
trade; but once on the deck it developed that he had not brought
nothing wherewith to trade. He seemed not the slightest disconcerted
by this discovery, stating that he would bring such articles as they
wished when he had learned what their requirements were.

The ubiquitous Sing was on hand during the interview, but from his
expressionless face none might guess what was passing through the
tortuous channels of his Oriental mind. The Malay had been aboard
nearly half an hour talking with von Horn when the mate, Bududreen,
came on deck, and it was Sing alone who noted the quickly concealed
flash of recognition which passed between the two Malays.

The Chinaman also saw the gleam that shot into the visitor's eye as
Virginia emerged from the cabin, but by no word or voluntary outward
sign did the man indicate that he had even noticed her. Shortly
afterward he left, promising to return with provisions the following
day. But it was to be months before they again saw him.

That evening as Sing was serving Virginia's supper he asked her if she
had recognized their visitor of the afternoon.

"Why no, Sing," she replied, "I never saw him before."

"Sh!" admonished the celestial. "No talkee so strong, wallee have ear
all same labbit."

"What do you mean, Sing?" asked the girl in a low voice. "How
perfectly weird and mysterious you are. Why you make the cold chills
run up my spine," she ended, laughing. But Sing did not return her
smile as was his custom.

"You no lememba tallee Lajah stand up wavee lite clothee in plilate
boat, ah?" he urged.

"Oh, Sing," she cried, "I do indeed! But unless you had reminded me I
should never have thought to connect him with our visitor of
today--they do look very much alike, don't they?"

"Lookeelike! Ugh, they all samee one man. Sing know. You lookee out,
Linee," which was the closest that Sing had ever been able to come to
pronouncing Virginia.

"Why should I look out? He doesn't want me," said the girl, laughingly.

"Don't you bee too damee sure 'bout lat, Linee," was Sing's inelegant
but convincing reply, as he turned toward his galley.

The following morning the party, with the exception of three Malays who
were left to guard the Ithaca, set out for the new camp. The journey
was up the bed of the small stream which emptied into the harbor, so
that although fifteen men had passed back and forth through the jungle
from the beach to the camp every day for two weeks, there was no sign
that human foot had ever crossed the narrow strip of sand that lay
between the dense foliage and the harbor.

The gravel bottom of the rivulet made fairly good walking, and as
Virginia was borne in a litter between two powerful lascars it was not
even necessary that she wet her feet in the ascent of the stream to the
camp. The distance was short, the center of the camp being but a mile
from the harbor, and less than half a mile from the opposite shore of
the island which was but two miles at its greatest breadth, and two and
a quarter at its greatest length.

At the camp Virginia found that a neat clearing had been made upon a
little tableland, a palisade built about it, and divided into three
parts; the most northerly of which contained a small house for herself
and her father, another for von Horn, and a common cooking and eating
house over which Sing was to preside.

The enclosure at the far end of the palisade was for the Malay and
lascar crew and there also were quarters for Bududreen and the Malay
second mate. The center enclosure contained Professor Maxon's
workshop. This compartment of the enclosure Virginia was not invited
to inspect, but as members of the crew carried in the two great chests
which the professor had left upon the Ithaca until the last moment,
Virginia caught a glimpse of the two buildings that had been erected
within this central space--a small, square house which was quite
evidently her father's laboratory, and a long, low thatched shed
divided into several compartments, each containing a rude bunk. She
wondered for whom they could be intended. Quarters for all the party
had already been arranged for elsewhere, nor, thought she, would her
father wish to house any in such close proximity to his workshop, where
he would desire absolute quiet and freedom from interruption. The
discovery perplexed her not a little, but so changed were her relations
with her father that she would not question him upon this or any other
subject.

As the two chests were being carried into the central campong, Sing,
who was standing near Virginia, called her attention to the fact that
Bududreen was one of those who staggered beneath the weight of the
heavier burden.

"Bludleen, him mate. Why workee alsame lascar boy? Eh?" But Virginia
could give no reason.

"I am afraid you don't like Bududreen, Sing," she said. "Has he ever
harmed you in any way?"

"Him? No, him no hurt Sing. Sing poor," with which more or less
enigmatical rejoinder the Chinaman returned to his work. But he
muttered much to himself the balance of the day, for Sing knew that a
chest that strained four men in the carrying could contain but one
thing, and he knew that Bududreen was as wise in such matters as he.

For a couple of months the life of the little hidden camp went on
peacefully and without exciting incident. The Malay and lascar crew
divided their time between watch duty on board the Ithaca, policing the
camp, and cultivating a little patch of clearing just south of their
own campong.

There was a small bay on the island's east coast, only a quarter of a
mile from camp, in which oysters were found, and one of the Ithaca's
boats was brought around to this side of the island for fishing.
Bududreen often accompanied these expeditions, and on several occasions
the lynx-eyed Sing had seen him returning to camp long after the others
had retired for the night.

Professor Maxon scarcely ever left the central enclosure. For days and
nights at a time Virginia never saw him, his meals being passed in to
him by Sing through a small trap door that had been cut in the
partition wall of the "court of mystery" as von Horn had christened the
section of the camp devoted to the professor's experimentations.

Von Horn himself was often with his employer as he enjoyed the latter's
complete confidence, and owing to his early medical training was well
fitted to act as a competent assistant; but he was often barred from
the workshop, and at such times was much with Virginia.

The two took long walks through the untouched jungle, exploring their
little island, and never failing to find some new and wonderful proof
of Nature's creative power among its flora and fauna.

"What a marvellous thing is creation," exclaimed Virginia as she and
von Horn paused one day to admire a tropical bird of unusually
brilliant plumage. "How insignificant is man's greatest achievement
beside the least of Nature's works."

"And yet," replied von Horn, "man shall find Nature's secret some day.
What a glorious accomplishment for him who first succeeds. Can you
imagine a more glorious consummation of a man's life work--your
father's, for example?"

The girl looked at von Horn closely.

"Dr. von Horn," she said, "pride has restrained me from asking what was
evidently intended that I should not know. For years my father has
been interested in an endeavor to solve the mystery of life--that he
would ever attempt to utilize the secret should he have been so
fortunate as to discover it had never occurred to me. I mean that he
should try to usurp the functions of the Creator I could never have
believed, but my knowledge of him, coupled with what you have said, and
the extreme lengths to which he has gone to maintain absolute secrecy
for his present experiments can only lead to one inference; and that,
that his present work, if successful, would have results that would not
be countenanced by civilized society or government. Am I right?"

Von Horn had attempted to sound the girl that he might, if possible,
discover her attitude toward the work in which her father and he were
engaged. He had succeeded beyond his hopes, for he had not intended
that she should guess so much of the truth as she had. Should her
interest in the work have proved favorable it had been his intention to
acquaint her fully with the marvellous success which already had
attended their experiments, and to explain their hopes and plans for
the future, for he had seen how her father's attitude had hurt her and
hoped to profit himself by reposing in her the trust and confidence
that her father denied her.

And so it was that her direct question left him floundering in a sea of
embarrassment, for to tell her the truth now would gain him no favor in
her eyes, while it certainly would lay him open to the suspicion and
distrust of her father should he learn of it.

"I cannot answer your question, Miss Maxon," he said, finally, "for
your father's strictest injunction has been that I divulge to no one
the slightest happening within the court of mystery. Remember that I
am in your father's employ, and that no matter what my personal
convictions may be regarding the work he has been doing I may only act
with loyalty to his lightest command while I remain upon his payroll.
That you are here," he added, "is my excuse for continuing my
connection with certain things of which my conscience does not approve."

The girl glanced at him quickly. She did not fully understand the
motive for his final avowal, and a sudden intuition kept her from
questioning him. She had learned to look upon von Horn as a very
pleasant companion and a good friend--she was not quite certain that
she would care for any change in their relations, but his remark had
sowed the seed of a new thought in her mind as he had intended that it
should.

When von Horn returned to the court of mystery, he narrated to
Professor Maxon the gist of his conversation with Virginia, wishing to
forestall anything which the girl might say to her father that would
give him an impression that von Horn had been talking more than he
should. Professor Maxon listened to the narration in silence. When
von Horn had finished, he cautioned him against divulging to Virginia
anything that took place within the inner campong.

"She is only a child," he said, "and would not understand the
importance of the work we are doing. All that she would be able to see
is the immediate moral effect of these experiments upon the subjects
themselves--she would not look into the future and appreciate the
immense advantage to mankind that must accrue from a successful
termination of our research. The future of the world will be assured
when once we have demonstrated the possibility of the chemical
production of a perfect race."

"Number One, for example," suggested von Horn.

Professor Maxon glanced at him sharply.

"Levity, Doctor, is entirely out of place in the contemplation of the
magnificent work I have already accomplished," said the professor
tartly. "I admit that Number One leaves much to be desired--much to be
desired; but Number Two shows a marked advance along certain lines, and
I am sure that tomorrow will divulge in experiment Number Three such
strides as will forever silence any propensity toward scoffing which
you may now entertain."

"Forgive me, Professor," von Horn hastened to urge. "I did not intend
to deride the wonderful discoveries which you have made, but it is only
natural that we should both realize that Number One is not beautiful.
To one another we may say what we would not think of suggesting to
outsiders."

Professor Maxon was mollified by this apology, and turned to resume his
watch beside a large, coffin-shaped vat. For a while von Horn was
silent. There was that upon his mind which he had wished to discuss
with his employer since months ago, but the moment had never arrived
which seemed at all propitious, nor did it appear likely ever to
arrive. So the doctor decided to broach the subject now, as being
psychologically as favorable a time as any.

"Your daughter is far from happy, Professor," he said, "nor do I feel
that, surrounded as we are by semi-savage men, she is entirely safe."

Professor Maxon looked up from his vigil by the vat, eyeing von Horn
closely.

"Well?" he asked.

"It seemed to me that had I a closer relationship I might better assist
in adding to her happiness and safety--in short, Professor, I should
like your permission to ask Virginia to marry me."

There had been no indication in von Horn's attitude toward the girl
that he loved her. That she was beautiful and intelligent could not be
denied, and so it was small wonder that she might appeal strongly to
any man, but von Horn was quite evidently not of the marrying type.
For years he had roved the world in search of adventure and excitement.
Just why he had left America and his high place in the navy he never
had divulged; nor why it was that for seven years he had not set his
foot upon ground which lay beneath the authority of Uncle Sam.

Sing Lee who stood just without the trap door through which he was
about to pass Professor Maxon's evening meal to him could not be blamed
for overhearing the conversation, though it may have been culpable in
him in making no effort to divulge his presence, and possibly equally
unpraiseworthy, as well as lacking in romance, to attribute the
doctor's avowal to his knowledge of the heavy chest.

As Professor Maxon eyed the man before replying to his abrupt request,
von Horn noted a strange and sudden light in the older man's eyes--a
something which he never before had seen there and which caused an
uncomfortable sensation to creep over him--a manner of bristling that
was akin either to fear or horror, von Horn could not tell which.

Then the professor arose from his seat and came very close to the
younger man, until his face was only a few inches from von Horn's.

"Doctor," he whispered in a strange, tense voice, "you are mad. You do
not know what you ask. Virginia is not for such as you. Tell me that
she does not know of your feelings toward her. Tell me that she does
not reciprocate your love. Tell me the truth, man." Professor Maxon
seized von Horn roughly by both shoulders, his glittering eyes glaring
terribly into the other's.

"I have never spoken to her of love, Professor," replied von Horn
quietly, "nor do I know what her sentiments toward me may be. Nor do I
understand, sir, what objections you may have to me--I am of a very old
and noble family." His tone was haughty but respectful.

Professor Maxon released his hold upon his assistant, breathing a sigh
of relief.

"I am glad," he said, "that it has gone no further, for it must not be.
I have other, nobler aspirations for my daughter. She must wed a
perfect man--none such now exists. It remains for me to bring forth
the ideal mate for her--nor is the time far distant. A few more weeks
and we shall see such a being as I have long dreamed." Again the queer
light flickered for a moment in the once kindly and jovial eyes of the
scientist.

Von Horn was horrified. He was a man of little sentiment. He could in
cold blood have married this girl for the wealth he knew that she would
inherit; but the thought that she was to be united with such a
THING--"Lord! It is horrible," and his mind pictured the fearful
atrocity which was known as Number One.

Without a word he turned and left the campong. A moment later Sing's
knock aroused Professor Maxon from the reverie into which he had
fallen, and he stepped to the trap door to receive his evening meal.





Next: Beauty And The Beast

Previous: The Rift



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