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.