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The Rift







From: The Monster Men

As he dropped the last grisly fragment of the dismembered and mutilated
body into the small vat of nitric acid that was to devour every trace
of the horrid evidence which might easily send him to the gallows, the
man sank weakly into a chair and throwing his body forward upon his
great, teak desk buried his face in his arms, breaking into dry,
moaning sobs.

Beads of perspiration followed the seams of his high, wrinkled
forehead, replacing the tears which might have lessened the pressure
upon his overwrought nerves. His slender frame shook, as with ague,
and at times was racked by a convulsive shudder. A sudden step upon
the stairway leading to his workshop brought him trembling and wide
eyed to his feet, staring fearfully at the locked and bolted door.

Although he knew perfectly well whose the advancing footfalls were, he
was all but overcome by the madness of apprehension as they came softly
nearer and nearer to the barred door. At last they halted before it,
to be followed by a gentle knock.

"Daddy!" came the sweet tones of a girl's voice.

The man made an effort to take a firm grasp upon himself that no
tell-tale evidence of his emotion might be betrayed in his speech.

"Daddy!" called the girl again, a trace of anxiety in her voice this
time. "What IS the matter with you, and what ARE you doing? You've
been shut up in that hateful old room for three days now without a
morsel to eat, and in all likelihood without a wink of sleep. You'll
kill yourself with your stuffy old experiments."

The man's face softened.

"Don't worry about me, sweetheart," he replied in a well controlled
voice. "I'll soon be through now--soon be through--and then we'll go
away for a long vacation--for a long vacation."

"I'll give you until noon, Daddy," said the girl in a voice which
carried a more strongly defined tone of authority than her father's
soft drawl, "and then I shall come into that room, if I have to use an
axe, and bring you out--do you understand?"

Professor Maxon smiled wanly. He knew that his daughter was equal to
her threat.

"All right, sweetheart, I'll be through by noon for sure--by noon for
sure. Run along and play now, like a good little girl."

Virginia Maxon shrugged her shapely shoulders and shook her head
hopelessly at the forbidding panels of the door.

"My dolls are all dressed for the day," she cried, "and I'm tired of
making mud pies--I want you to come out and play with me." But
Professor Maxon did not reply-he had returned to view his grim
operations, and the hideousness of them had closed his ears to the
sweet tones of the girl's voice.

As she turned to retrace her steps to the floor below Miss Maxon still
shook her head.

"Poor old Daddy," she mused, "were I a thousand years old, wrinkled and
toothless, he would still look upon me as his baby girl."

If you chance to be an alumnus of Cornell you may recall Professor
Arthur Maxon, a quiet, slender, white-haired gentleman, who for several
years was an assistant professor in one of the departments of natural
science. Wealthy by inheritance, he had chosen the field of education
for his life work solely from a desire to be of some material benefit
to mankind since the meager salary which accompanied his professorship
was not of sufficient import to influence him in the slightest degree.

Always keenly interested in biology, his almost unlimited means had
permitted him to undertake, in secret, a series of daring experiments
which had carried him so far in advance of the biologists of his day
that he had, while others were still groping blindly for the secret of
life, actually reproduced by chemical means the great phenomenon.

Fully alive to the gravity and responsibilities of his marvellous
discovery he had kept the results of his experimentation, and even the
experiments themselves, a profound secret not only from his colleagues,
but from his only daughter, who heretofore had shared his every hope
and aspiration.

It was the very success of his last and most pretentious effort that
had placed him in the horrifying predicament in which he now found
himself--with the corpse of what was apparently a human being in his
workshop and no available explanation that could possibly be acceptable
to a matter-of-fact and unscientific police.

Had he told them the truth they would have laughed at him. Had he
said: "This is not a human being that you see, but the remains of a
chemically produced counterfeit created in my own laboratory," they
would have smiled, and either hanged him or put him away with the other
criminally insane.

This phase of the many possibilities which he had realized might be
contingent upon even the partial success of his work alone had escaped
his consideration, so that the first wave of triumphant exultation with
which he had viewed the finished result of this last experiment had
been succeeded by overwhelming consternation as he saw the thing which
he had created gasp once or twice with the feeble spark of life with
which he had endowed it, and expire--leaving upon his hands the corpse
of what was, to all intent and purpose, a human being, albeit a most
grotesque and misshapen thing.

Until nearly noon Professor Maxon was occupied in removing the
remaining stains and evidences of his gruesome work, but when he at
last turned the key in the door of his workshop it was to leave behind
no single trace of the successful result of his years of labor.

The following afternoon found him and Virginia crossing the station
platform to board the express for New York. So quietly had their plans
been made that not a friend was at the train to bid them farewell--the
scientist felt that he could not bear the strain of attempting
explanations at this time.

But there were those there who recognized them, and one especially who
noted the lithe, trim figure and beautiful face of Virginia Maxon
though he did not know even the name of their possessor. It was a tall
well built young man who nudged one of his younger companions as the
girl crossed the platform to enter her Pullman.

"I say, Dexter," he exclaimed, "who is that beauty?"

The one addressed turned in the direction indicated by his friend.

"By jove!" he exclaimed. "Why it's Virginia Maxon and the professor,
her father. Now where do you suppose they're going?"

"I don't know--now," replied the first speaker, Townsend J. Harper,
Jr., in a half whisper, "but I'll bet you a new car that I find out."


A week later, with failing health and shattered nerves, Professor Maxon
sailed with his daughter for a long ocean voyage, which he hoped would
aid him in rapid recuperation, and permit him to forget the nightmare
memory of those three horrible days and nights in his workshop.

He believed that he had reached an unalterable decision never again to
meddle with the mighty, awe inspiring secrets of creation; but with
returning health and balance he found himself viewing his recent
triumph with feelings of renewed hope and anticipation.

The morbid fears superinduced by the shock following the sudden demise
of the first creature of his experiments had given place to a growing
desire to further prosecute his labors until enduring success had
crowned his efforts with an achievement which he might exhibit with
pride to the scientific world.

His recent disastrous success had convinced him that neither Ithaca nor
any other abode of civilization was a safe place to continue his
experiments, but it was not until their cruising had brought them among
the multitudinous islands of the East Indies that the plan occurred to
him that he finally adopted--a plan the outcome of which could he then
have foreseen would have sent him scurrying to the safety of his own
country with the daughter who was to bear the full brunt of the horrors
it entailed.

They were steaming up the China Sea when the idea first suggested
itself, and as he sat idly during the long, hot days the thought grew
upon him, expanding into a thousand wonderful possibilities, until it
became crystalized into what was a little short of an obsession.

The result was that at Manila, much to Virginia's surprise, he
announced the abandonment of the balance of their purposed voyage,
taking immediate return passage to Singapore. His daughter did not
question him as to the cause of this change in plans, for since those
three days that her father had kept himself locked in his workroom at
home the girl had noticed a subtle change in her parent--a marked
disinclination to share with her his every confidence as had been his
custom since the death of her mother.

While it grieved her immeasurably she was both too proud and too hurt
to sue for a reestablishment of the old relations. On all other topics
than his scientific work their interests were as mutual as formerly,
but by what seemed a manner of tacit agreement this subject was taboo.
And so it was that they came to Singapore without the girl having the
slightest conception of her father's plans.

Here they spent nearly a month, during which time Professor Maxon was
daily engaged in interviewing officials, English residents and a motley
horde of Malays and Chinamen.

Virginia met socially several of the men with whom her father was
engaged but it was only at the last moment that one of them let drop a
hint of the purpose of the month's activity. When Virginia was present
the conversation seemed always deftly guided from the subject of her
father's immediate future, and she was not long in discerning that it
was in no sense through accident that this was true. Thereafter her
wounded pride made easy the task of those who seemed combined to keep
her in ignorance.

It was a Dr. von Horn, who had been oftenest with her father, who gave
her the first intimation of what was forthcoming. Afterward, in
recollecting the conversation, it seemed to Virginia that the young man
had been directed to break the news to her, that her father might be
spared the ordeal. It was evident then that he expected opposition,
but the girl was too loyal to let von Horn know if she felt other than
in harmony with the proposal, and too proud to evince by surprise the
fact that she was not wholly conversant with its every detail.

"You are glad to be leaving Singapore so soon?" he had asked, although
he knew that she had not been advised that an early departure was
planned.

"I am rather looking forward to it," replied Virginia.

"And to a protracted residence on one of the Pamarung Islands?"
continued von Horn.

"Why not?" was her rather non-committal reply, though she had not the
remotest idea of their location.

Von Horn admired her nerve though he rather wished that she would ask
some questions--it was difficult making progress in this way. How
could he explain the plans when she evinced not the slightest sign that
she was not already entirely conversant with them?

"We doubt if the work will be completed under two or three years,"
answered the doctor. "That will be a long time in which to be isolated
upon a savage little speck of land off the larger but no less savage
Borneo. Do you think that your bravery is equal to the demands that
will be made upon it?"

Virginia laughed, nor was there the slightest tremor in its note.

"I am equal to whatever fate my father is equal to," she said, "nor do
I think that a life upon one of these beautiful little islands would be
much of a hardship--certainly not if it will help to promote the
success of his scientific experiments."

She used the last words on a chance that she might have hit upon the
true reason for the contemplated isolation from civilization. They had
served their purpose too in deceiving von Horn who was now half
convinced that Professor Maxon must have divulged more of their plans
to his daughter than he had led the medical man to believe. Perceiving
her advantage from the expression on the young man's face, Virginia
followed it up in an endeavor to elicit the details.

The result of her effort was the knowledge that on the second day they
were to sail for the Pamarung Islands upon a small schooner which her
father had purchased, with a crew of Malays and lascars, and von Horn,
who had served in the American navy, in command. The precise point of
destination was still undecided--the plan being to search out a
suitable location upon one of the many little islets which dot the
western shore of the Macassar Strait.

Of the many men Virginia had met during the month at Singapore von Horn
had been by far the most interesting and companionable. Such time as
he could find from the many duties which had devolved upon him in the
matter of obtaining and outfitting the schooner, and signing her two
mates and crew of fifteen, had been spent with his employer's daughter.

The girl was rather glad that he was to be a member of their little
company, for she had found him a much travelled man and an interesting
talker with none of the, to her, disgusting artificialities of the
professional ladies' man. He talked to her as he might have talked to
a man, of the things that interest intelligent people regardless of sex.

There was never any suggestion of familiarity in his manner; nor in his
choice of topics did he ever ignore the fact that she was a young girl.
She had felt entirely at ease in his society from the first evening
that she had met him, and their acquaintance had grown to a very
sensible friendship by the time of the departure of the Ithaca--the
rechristened schooner which was to carry them away to an unguessed fate.

The voyage from Singapore to the Islands was without incident.
Virginia took a keen delight in watching the Malays and lascars at
their work, telling von Horn that she had to draw upon her imagination
but little to picture herself a captive upon a pirate ship--the half
naked men, the gaudy headdress, the earrings, and the fierce
countenances of many of the crew furnishing only too realistically the
necessary savage setting.

A week spent among the Pamarung Islands disclosed no suitable site for
the professor's camp, nor was it until they had cruised up the coast
several miles north of the equator and Cape Santang that they found a
tiny island a few miles off the coast opposite the mouth of a small
river--an island which fulfilled in every detail their requirements.

It was uninhabited, fertile and possessed a clear, sweet brook which
had its source in a cold spring in the higher land at the island's
center. Here it was that the Ithaca came to anchor in a little harbor,
while her crew under von Horn, and the Malay first mate, Bududreen,
accompanied Professor Maxon in search of a suitable location for a
permanent camp.

The cook, a harmless old Chinaman, and Virginia were left in sole
possession of the Ithaca.

Two hours after the departure of the men into the jungle Virginia heard
the fall of axes on timber and knew that the site of her future home
had been chosen and the work of clearing begun. She sat musing on the
strange freak which had prompted her father to bury them in this savage
corner of the globe; and as she pondered there came a wistful
expression to her eyes, and an unwonted sadness drooped the corners of
her mouth.

Of a sudden she realized how wide had become the gulf between them now.
So imperceptibly had it grown since those three horrid days in Ithaca
just prior to their departure for what was to have been but a few
months' cruise that she had not until now comprehended that the old
relations of open, good-fellowship had gone, possibly forever.

Had she needed proof of the truth of her sad discovery it had been
enough to point to the single fact that her father had brought her here
to this little island without making the slightest attempt to explain
the nature of his expedition. She had gleaned enough from von Horn to
understand that some important scientific experiments were to be
undertaken; but what their nature she could not imagine, for she had
not the slightest conception of the success that had crowned her
father's last experiment at Ithaca, although she had for years known of
his keen interest in the subject.

The girl became aware also of other subtle changes in her father. He
had long since ceased to be the jovial, carefree companion who had
shared with her her every girlish joy and sorrow and in whom she had
confided both the trivial and momentous secrets of her childhood. He
had become not exactly morose, but rather moody and absorbed, so that
she had of late never found an opportunity for the cozy chats that had
formerly meant so much to them both. There had been too, recently, a
strange lack of consideration for herself that had wounded her more
than she had imagined. Today there had been a glaring example of it in
his having left her alone upon the boat without a single European
companion--something that he would never have thought of doing a few
months before.

As she sat speculating on the strange change which had come over her
father her eyes had wandered aimlessly along the harbor's entrance; the
low reef that protected it from the sea, and the point of land to the
south, that projected far out into the strait like a gigantic index
finger pointing toward the mainland, the foliage covered heights of
which were just visible above the western horizon.

Presently her attention was arrested by a tossing speck far out upon
the rolling bosom of the strait. For some time the girl watched the
object until at length it resolved itself into a boat moving head on
toward the island. Later she saw that it was long and low, propelled
by a single sail and many oars, and that it carried quite a company.

Thinking it but a native trading boat, so many of which ply the
southern seas, Virginia viewed its approach with but idle curiosity.
When it had come to within half a mile of the anchorage of the Ithaca,
and was about to enter the mouth of the harbor Sing Lee's eyes chanced
to fall upon it. On the instant the old Chinaman was electrified into
sudden and astounding action.

"Klick! Klick!" he cried, running toward Virginia. "Go b'low, klick."

"Why should I go below, Sing?" queried the girl, amazed by the demeanor
of the cook.

"Klick! Klick!" he urged grasping her by the arm--half leading, half
dragging her toward the companion-way. "Plilates! Mlalay
plilates--Dyak plilates."

"Pirates!" gasped Virginia. "Oh Sing, what can we do?"

"You go b'low. Mebbyso Sing flighten 'em. Shoot cannon. Bling help.
Maxon come klick. Bling men. Chase'm 'way," explained the Chinaman.
"But plilates see 'em pletty white girl," he shrugged his shoulders and
shook his head dubiously, "then old Sing no can flighten 'em 'way."

The girl shuddered, and crouching close behind Sing hurried below. A
moment later she heard the boom of the old brass six pounder which for
many years had graced the Ithaca's stern. In the bow Professor Maxon
had mounted a modern machine gun, but this was quite beyond Sing's
simple gunnery. The Chinaman had not taken the time to sight the
ancient weapon carefully, but a gleeful smile lit his wrinkled, yellow
face as he saw the splash of the ball where it struck the water almost
at the side of the prahu.

Sing realized that the boat might contain friendly natives, but he had
cruised these waters too many years to take chances. Better kill a
hundred friends, he thought, than be captured by a single pirate.

At the shot the prahu slowed up, and a volley of musketry from her crew
satisfied Sing that he had made no mistake in classifying her. Her
fire fell short as did the ball from the small cannon mounted in her
bow.

Virginia was watching the prahu from one of the cabin ports. She saw
the momentary hesitation and confusion which followed Sing's first
shot, and then to her dismay she saw the rowers bend to their oars
again and the prahu move swiftly in the direction of the Ithaca.

It was apparent that the pirates had perceived the almost defenseless
condition of the schooner. In a few minutes they would be swarming the
deck, for poor old Sing would be entirely helpless to repel them. If
Dr. von Horn were only there, thought the distracted girl. With the
machine gun alone he might keep them off.

At the thought of the machine gun a sudden resolve gripped her. Why
not man it herself? Von Horn had explained its mechanism to her in
detail, and on one occasion had allowed her to operate it on the voyage
from Singapore. With the thought came action. Running to the magazine
she snatched up a feed-belt, and in another moment was on deck beside
the astonished Sing.

The pirates were skimming rapidly across the smooth waters of the
harbor, answering Sing's harmless shots with yells of derision and
wild, savage war cries. There were, perhaps, fifty Dyaks and
Malays--fierce, barbaric men; mostly naked to the waist, or with
war-coats of brilliant colors. The savage headdress of the Dyaks, the
long, narrow, decorated shields, the flashing blades of parang and kris
sent a shudder through the girl, so close they seemed beneath the
schooner's side.

"What do? What do?" cried Sing in consternation. "Go b'low. Klick!"
But before he had finished his exhortation Virginia was racing toward
the bow where the machine gun was mounted. Tearing the cover from it
she swung the muzzle toward the pirate prahu, which by now was nearly
within range above the vessel's side--a moment more and she would be
too close to use the weapon upon the pirates.

Virginia was quick to perceive the necessity for haste, while the
pirates at the same instant realized the menace of the new danger which
confronted them. A score of muskets belched forth their missiles at
the fearless girl behind the scant shield of the machine gun. Leaden
pellets rained heavily upon her protection, or whizzed threateningly
about her head--and then she got the gun into action.

At the rate of fifty a minute, a stream of projectiles tore into the
bow of the prahu when suddenly a richly garbed Malay in the stern rose
to his feet waving a white cloth upon the point of his kris. It was
the Rajah Muda Saffir--he had seen the girl's face and at the sight of
it the blood lust in his breast had been supplanted by another.

At sight of the emblem of peace Virginia ceased firing. She saw the
tall Malay issue a few commands, the oarsmen bent to their work, the
prahu came about, making off toward the harbor's entrance. At the same
moment there was a shot from the shore followed by loud yelling, and
the girl turned to see her father and von Horn pulling rapidly toward
the Ithaca.





Next: The Heavy Chest

Previous: Victory And Defeat



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