What Happened to Crandall

What Happened to Crandall (1917)
by Bertram Atkey
Extracted from The Green Book magazine, 1917 Dec, pp. 1139–1152. A weird story of Borneo—a novelette of the unusual sort for which The Green Book has become famous.

Chapters: IIIIIIIVVVIVII

3889078What Happened to Crandall1917Bertram Atkey

What Happened to Crandall

By
Bertram Atkey


PROLOGUE

The Poisoned Thorn

THE orchid-hunter stepped softly into a little clearing on the edge of the swamp, glancing about him with practiced eyes. Then he laughed quietly, moved across through the slow, clinging vapor that arose from the moist ground underfoot and bent eagerly over the specimen he had found.

It was a deadly and soundless place of gloom and miasma in one of the great forests of Borneo, and there was mystery there also—as though evil things watched from behind the liana-choked and monstrously gnarled trees, to see what the white man would do. And the orchid bloomed under the man’s hand like a pale, wide-open purple-spotted mouth—a bloom with a bizarre and poisonous beauty. The low, reedy note of a lonely bird came piping out thinly from the dimness of the swamp, and for a moment the orchid-hunter hesitated. Then he chuckled and began to secure his specimen.

And, almost as though he had been born of the warm, wet wreathing vapors of the swamp, a little brown wizened man with evil eyes stole out of the surrounding dimness and silence, and crept up to the orchid-hunter and pricked him gently with a long thorn. The orchid-hunter dropped quietly forward like an exhausted man and lay still, his face crushing the purple-stained orchid. And the brown wizened man, sheathing carefully his poisoned thorn, squatted beside the orchid-hunter and grinned, inhaling deeply the strange perfume of the crushed bloom.

Then, slowly and laboriously, he dragged the body out of the tiny clearing away into the dense gloom beneath the trees.


CHAPTER I

Raxenfeld of Wall Street

SOME one at the plantation sent his things home and wrote a letter in queer, broken English—a beautiful letter, so kind and so sincere that for a long time we could not read it without crying,” said the girl softly. There were tears in her eyes as she spoke.

“But,” she added, “even the man who wrote the letter could not tell us what had happened to him. Like the others,—the officials at Banjermasin,—he only said that Jack had disappeared a year ago and had left no trace.

“Innumerable natives had been questioned,—heavy rewards offered, for they do not like white men to disappear mysteriously out there,—but nothing could be learned. And now, I think, everybody has quite accepted the idea that he is dead—everybody but his mother and I. And the neighbors talk sympathetically to us; but they hint vaguely that in such a country as Borneo there are a thousand things that might have happened to him—snake-bite, fever, swamps—oh, dreadful things! I suppose they try to convince us because no doubt they think it would be kindness to end the suspense, but it is not suspense at all. It is hope—hope; and how can anyone kill such hope as hers, who is his mother, and mine, who was to be his wife?”

The man who was listening tightened his lips a little, and a thin line penciled itself between his brows. His clean, dark, sharply cut face seemed hard and impassive, as though there was a mask upon it. But there was no masking the light that burned in his keen, steady eyes as he looked at the girl who was talking to him.

“They can’t destroy such hope as ours,” she said half questioningly. He shook his head gently, and she continued: “And so we sit together in that lonely house on the downs—we two women—and wait and hope and listen. But he never comes Please do not think me strange, but I have dreamed that he is not dead—not dead, but only in awful trouble. I can’t explain very well—dreams are so weblike and fleeting.

“You know what I mean. There is nothing definite. But when I dream, it seems to me that he is a prisoner somewhere—in some strange fashion. I do not mean that he is confined behind walls or bars, but that he is kept—constrained—held back. It is as though some one were suddenly smitten dumb and one thought of that person’s speech as being imprisoned. His mother dreams of him in that way too—she has hinted as much to me, and—”


THE man interrupted.

“One moment, Katherine: tell me, do you see anything in your dreams or are they just Sensations?”

“Both,” she said. “There is a sensation of captivity,—terribly strong,—but I see one scene too. It is a little low bungalow built of some kind of bamboo, I think, with a wide veranda around it; and sometimes there are two Europeans in white suits sitting on the veranda. The bungalow is halfway up a steep hill that is drowned with strange growths—wonderful blossoms, dense thickets, creeping, curling vines and queer tropical trees.

“At the foot of the hill there seems to be a swamp or some damp, deadly place where mists rise and float slowly at night. Away to the left are trees full of the clamor and color of parrots and gaudy birds that burn like jewels in the sunlight. And to the right is a strange outcrop,—I think I have heard Jack call such a formation an ‘outcrop’—a pile of jagged rock, with vegetation half covering it, and four or five naked-looking trees at the top.

“Nearly always there is a gray monkey climbing in a slow, aimless kind of way about these trees. And that is all I ever see. His mother has seen it too in her dreams, and we think perhaps it may mean something. And then I saw that you were in England again, and I thought of the old days; and though I was foolish then, and we did not part quite kindly, I—I thought that I would ask you to help us—just because you were always good to me and because of our hope.”

She turned suddenly, her hands flying to her face. She sobbed, and the man was bending over her in an instant.

“Please, Katie, please don’t cry,” he implored. “Why, of course I will help—do anything. What am I for, if not to help my friends? Why did you wait a year, and even then only ask me because I came to England by chance? I have been in New York all that time making money that I did not want, and I would have welcomed work to do for you..... Never mind that now.”

He waited a second for the girl to recover herself, and then he became businesslike. It was better to be curt, he saw, for she wept like one utterly unstrung, and he knew that kindness, petting, would only lure her to hysteria.

“You must stop crying if we are to do any good!” he resumed sharply, but wincing as he spoke. She started a little, gasped and steadied herself.


NOW,” he continued grimly, “I'll run over the facts. I want them fresh in my mind: Jack Crandall went out to Borneo after orchids a year and three weeks ago. You had two letters from him, the last of which was addressed from the house of the manager of the Hollander Rubber Plantation. You heard no more until the news of his disappearance came from the manager and was confirmed by certain officials at Banjermasin, about eight months ago. And you want me to run over and make some inquiries?”

As he anticipated, his coldly business-like attitude quieted and braced the girl. She understood and was grateful.

“Yes, please,” she said quite simply.

In spite of himself his lips twitched for a second. There was something naïve about the the quiet way in which this slim little English girl accepted the idea that he, “Big Jim” Raxenfeld of Wall Street, should discard all business at once and venture straightway into the wilds of Borneo in search of the man to whom this very girl—Katherine Renny—had affianced herself, two years before, in preference to him.

For he was powerful in America—and elsewhere—with the power that ownership of forty million dollars and a splendid intellect can give one. And such a man goes hither and yon at the beck and call of few. He had crossed to London on business concerned with a big steamship combine that, if handled the right way, would direct another quarter of a million dollars into his already crammed security vaults; and yet, because this slim, big-eyed, pale girl wanted help, he was already planning to drop out of the steamship flurry and quietly set his face toward the wilds.

He smiled because she was so naïve; and at the same time, in his heart, he trembled with keen joy because she came to him in her trouble. And after all, he was a man for the wilds—big, hard as steel, quick as a cat and cool. He had spent nearly a third of his life in the wilds, and he would be glad to go.


RAXENFELD loved this girl, and he was straight in his soul, and chivalrous, and strong enough to strangle resentment that she should have chosen some other man to be her husband when he was at her feet. Never had he rid himself during the past two years of a deep-set belief that she had chosen badly; that Jack Crandall, for all his singular personal charm and undeniable physical beauty, had a queer streak in him somewhere—hidden away, deeply buried, latent, but there.

But he had long ago fought down the vague feeling of injury which her acceptance of Crandall, soon after the refusal of himself, had for a time bred in him; and so he was ready. The money could go.

“I’ll go, Katie,” he said. “Why, of course I’ll go.”

She smiled.

“Thank you, Jim,” she said. “I knew you would—you were always as kind as you are big and strong.”

The blood ran darkly into his face as he saw the look in her eyes, and he caught back the savage desire that suddenly uncoiled in his heart, to lift the girl in his arms and love her like a little child. She was not for him, though he was—the blood sang it sharply in his brain—her slave and footstool. He schooled himself and waited, for she had not finished.

“And, Jim—” She hesitated.

“Well?”

“Please, please, may I come too?” Her hand closed nervously upon his sleeve, and her eyes were dark and wide with anxiety. “I will be good and so quiet and small. Perhaps I can help,” she begged. He took both her hands.

“You must not ask me that; you must ask your people—his people,” he said.

She nodded.

“I have asked his mother. She is all there is,—you know I have no people,—and she says yes.”

But Raxenfeld was not to be hastened.

“I will come and see her,” he said quietly. “I know something of the wilds. What I know I will tell her—just the truth. If she says yes then, be sure that I shall not say no.”

She gave him both her hands.

“Oh, thank you so much—thank you so much,” she said.

And within an hour Raxenfeld had handed over his affairs to his secretary and was traveling into Sussex with Katherine Renny.

That was the beginning of the quest.


CHAPTER II

A Warning and a Problem

SOME six weeks later a lonely man, lounging in a cane chair on the veranda of a bungalow perched on the side of a hill in the Dyak country, saw, climbing slowly up toward him, a little party of natives carrying a litter, by the side of which walked a white man. He rose and stood for a moment, watching. The party skirted the edge of the rubber plantation and came steadily on to the bungalow; and the lonely man, a puzzled frown between his heavy brows, went out to meet them. It was an event in his life to see new faces in that place.

His name was Ware, and he was English; his business was to help his manager make tons of rubber grow where only pounds had grown before. And he was succeeding, but the monotony was eating away his soul. So he was quick to greet the man with the litter.

“How are you?” he asked. “I hope nothing’s wrong.”

Raxenfeld spoke softly as he shook hands. “A little fever, picked up on the Barito River as we came up,” he said. “But she has shaken it off now. She just needs rest and quiet.”

Ware’s brows went up. She! Somehow, he had not expected a woman.

Raxenfeld saw his surprise and added quietly: “The lady is Miss Renny.” Ware flushed a little, and a certain distress shadowed his eyes. He stepped a few paces back from the litter, beckoning Raxenfeld.

The lady who was to have married that poor chap Crandall—the orchid-hunter?” he asked softly. “Van Handen, the manager here, wrote to her.”

Raxenfeld nodded.

“Mr. Crandall went into the forest alone,” Ware continued. “He was difficult to advise—overconfident, you know. I’m afraid he will never come back—this Dyak country is a queer place. There are head-hunters and other things, you know. I don’t want to be discouraging, but persuade her not to expect too much.”

Raxenfeld felt quite suddenly that he liked this man and could trust him.


TELL me,” he asked bluntly, “is there the least chance in the world that Crandall is alive?”

Ware looked round him before answering, and there was a queer expression in his eyes as he took in for the thousandth time the bizarre, tropical, exotic beauty of the place. Then he spoke slowly.

“One chance in a million,” he said. “This is a strange country. Sometimes a man can’t help feeling that there is something wrong about the forests—secret, you know—as though deadly things come up out of the swamps and creeks and watch you and wait their chance at you. We will do what we can, of course—it’s good to see white folk up here again.

“Van Handen will be crazy with pleasure. We’ll discuss the other matter presently; Van will help you. He’s a fine doctor too; you couldn’t have brought Miss Renny to better hands. This place isn’t quite adapted for a lady, though, but Mrs. Wahlen will be glad to have her. Wahlen is a missionary here—two miles round the hill. I'll have something prepared for Miss Renny to eat and drink while she rests, and then go on to Wahlen’s with you. But I hope you'll stop here; we can manage a shakedown for a man.”

Raxenfeld accepted gladly. He fancied that he detected in Ware’s manner something queer, as though, for instance, he had not yet told all he knew of Crandall’s disappearance.

Thus it was that toward nightfall the big American found himself sitting on the veranda of the bungalow, smoking and talking with Ware, content in the knowledge that Katherine Renny was in kind and capable hands.

“Yes,” he was saying, “I can well believe that a sense of queerness sometimes comes to a man in these forests. There’s something vaguely unwholesome about it. It’s—it’s like the overpowering scent of some steamy, moist hothouse filled with huge lilies.”

Ware nodded.

“That’s it exactly,” he agreed. “And though you get used to it, you never shake it off—at any rate, if you live pretty much alone. . . . . Hullo, there he is again!”


RAXENFELD followed Ware's glance. He was looking toward that queer peak of rock which Katherine Renny had seen in her dream, and which he had realized, with a sort of shock, really existed. Up this rock a big, gray monkey was climbing slowly. Arrived at the top, the creature squatted down; with its hands hanging idly over its knees, it stared steadily toward the bungalow.

“Queer old customer, that,” said Ware. “And as wily as a fox! He comes sneaking and poking and prying about this bungalow at night. He used to make extraordinary noises, until one night I gave him a charge of bird-shot. I don’t suppose he had ever seen a gun in his life until then,—even if he saw it then,—but he knows now where birdshot comes from. Just watch.”

He rose quickly and stepped into the room behind. The ape rose instantly, peering across.

Ware stepped out with a gun in his hand. But before he was clear of the room the animal had vanished.

Ware grinned.

“He understands,” said Raxenfeld.

“Yes, but that’s not all. I’ll put the gun back.” He did so, and even as he took his seat again, the monkey reappeared from behind the spur of rock, where he had taken cover.

“I’ve got a walking-stick gun here, this time,” said Ware softly. “Watch.” He raised the weapon which he had kept concealed when bringing it out of the room, but before he had lifted it beyond his hip, the monkey had darted again into cover.

“It’s a good way off—out of range, really. From where he is, this must look like a walking-cane and nothing else. Yet he knows, somehow, that it is not safe. If you point a bamboo pole at him, he ignores it—doesn’t trouble to take cover. Intelligent, isn’t he?”

Raxenfeld nodded.

“He’s not an orang-outang?” he asked.

“No—I don’t quite know what species he is. He’s a lonely chap—disappears sometimes for weeks. A collector might find him worth capturing. Ah, here’s Van Handen!”


A BIG, bearded, middle-aged man came round the corner of the bungalow. He was a burly, capable-looking Dutchman, with steady gray eyes.

“Dey told me at Wahlen’s dot you were here, and I am glad to see you,” he said, shaking hands with Raxenfeld. “I took der opportunity to see the liddle lady with the touch of fever. Dere is noding to be fearful for. Now dot she is away from the low-lying districts, she will mend herself with great quickness. You haf come to make inquiry for dot unlucky Misder Crandall?”

He sat down as Raxenfeld answered that he had.

The Dutchman shook his head gravely.

“We too haf made much inquiry afder him, but we haf learned noding. He wend into the forest, and he did not come out dere from. Dot is all we know, and all dot we can discover. The forest swallowed him up.” He looked keenly at Raxenfeld through half-closed lids.

“He was an expert in his line—an orchid-hunter; he knew the ordinary dangers of his business,” said Raxenfeld.

“Dere is plenty dangers,” threw in Van Handen.

“Yes—snakes, fever and, for instance, head-hunters,” Raxenfeld suggested.

The Dutchman nodded slowly.

“The head-hunters are preddy well exdincted by now,” he said, “so far as the heads of white men are concerned. Perhaps among the villages in the inside of the country the head of a Dyak is nod always preddy safe, but dey would not be likely to try for the head of a white man.”


THERE was a little pause, during which the hot purple twilight fell swiftly. Van Handen stirred slightly in his chair, wiping his face. He took a long pull at some barbarous compound of gin, vermuth and quinine, and spoke again.

“I took the drouble to study dot young man Crandall and to advise him. But he was difficult to advise. He had lived a few months in dis country before he came to dis place, and he had been preddy well busy.” Again the Dutchman glanced sharply from beneath his half-closed lids. Then he continued:

“The foreman of one of the gangs on the plandation hinted to me dot dere was drouble ofer a girl in one of the villages round at the back of the hill. You must obserf dot young man Crandall worked round to the bungalow from the direction of the village. Dere was no doubt the foreman might haf told me the whole story, liddle by liddle. Only the nexd morning, when I went to learn a trifle more,—to continue to question him with great care,—I found dot he had died in the night. Yes, mine friendt, dot was nod preddy good. Dey told me a snake had bitten him in the calf of the leg.

“And I examine him—the calf of his leg. Dot must haf been a strange snake—to bite a man and kill him and, nefertheless, not to leave the marks of the liddle, sharp poison-fangs! No—dere was no marks. Den I examine the body ofer all, and I found the mark I was looking for. One liddle mark on the side of the neck, under the ear—like the mark of a pin-prick. Dot was where the snake had bidden him, but the snake was a man-snake, and the poison-fang was a liddle poisoned arrow from a blow-pipe, mine friendt. Dere was noding to do. It is not possible to tell who blows a poisoned arrow out of the darkness and the silence of the night and creeps and crawls away, leaving a dead man.

“But in a preddy short time, I go to the Dyak village the foreman had spoken about. But dere was noding to be gained derefrom—dey can be secret as the grave, dose people, when dey choose. Dey said dey had nefer seen nor heard of a white man for years; dey: knew noding, dey said. Dey oferdid it, mine friendt, for the foreman had told me dot Misder Crandall had camped near dot village. But it was all the same. I could nod learn anyding. Suspect—yes, I could suspect everyding. But suspicion is not knowledge. And so I come away derefrom and wride a ledder to young Crandall’s people as kind as I could; and dere I left the matter. Dere was noding else to do.”


THERE was another pause. Raxenfeld waited. The big Dutchman threw the end of his cheroot out into the dusk.

“But I do not like it. Somewhere aboud dot village is a man dot knows what was the end of Crandall. And if dot man was foundt and was made to speak, den we also should know. Only dot is an impossibility. And now let us go and eat dinner.”

Throughout the meal which followed, Raxenfeld said little. When he spoke, it was to put quiet questions to the blunt old plantation-manager, which, for all their quietness, were nevertheless directed always to one end—the Dyak girl of whom Van Handen had hinted, and the chances of finding her.

But the Dutchman was not encouraging. He explained that it was unlikely to the last degree that either the man whom he believed had killed Crandall, or the girl for whose sake he suspected Crandall had been killed, would be in the village now.

“Dey will haf disappeared into der woods,” he said, “chust as a snake creeps away into the undergrowd and disappears. Moreofer, dere is the liddle lady dot awaits at Wahlen’s—so pale and with such great wis’ful eyes and so full of belief in the love and faith of dis young man Crandall. It would be a preddy painful t’ing to haf to explain to her dot her betrothed made love to a native girl and was killed by a jealous native man.”

He reached slowly for a cheroot, and Raxenfeld waited for him to go on.

“Now she beliefs in him and loves her memory of him, but if you grope and hunt until you find the truth,—and it will be as I haf told you,—what will you tell her? I urge you, Misder Raggensfeld, to consider that with great care.”

And when, some hours after, Raxenfeld turned in, he was still face to face with the problem. In his heart he believed the big friendly Dutchman had hinted at the truth. And if this was all he could discover, why should he discover anything? Far better confess to Katherine Renny, after a judicious interval, that he could learn nothing of Crandall’s fate, that he had failed, and so leave her the pleasant memories of Crandall, than to unearth a truth that would make bitter her remembrance of the man she had chosen.

Long into the night Raxenfeld lay awake, threshing it out in his mind. And slowly there crept insidiously into his heart the thought that if he should discover the truth and tell it to Katherine, then what was to prevent the girl, in the shock of learning that her dead lover had been wholly faithless, from turning to him—to Raxenfeld! But was this what he had set out to do? He had promised to help her.

“What sort of help would it be to kill her belief in the man she loved on the chance of her turning to me in her trouble?” he asked himself. And the night wore on to dawn without his discovering any answer but the obvious one to his own question.


CHAPTER III

Into the Wilds

DISCOURAGING though he was when speaking of the missing orchid-hunter, Van Handen took unlimited trouble to help the big American in his quest after certain knowledge of the fate of Crandall. He put at Raxenfeld’s disposal a small, dried-up, quiet native who spoke indifferently an uncouth jargon of English and Dutch. He was very old and seemed unintelligent. But when the American tentatively hinted at this to Ware, the latter laughed.

“L’yan doesn’t look much, certainly,” he said, “but when you get into the forest with him you'll see a difference. He’s head and shoulders above any other native about here for your purpose. They say he was once a head-hunter and a past-master at it. Wan Handen says he has heard that that withered-looking little scoundrel, at the time when Wahlen the missionary got hold of him and interested him in working for the white man, had over twenty smoked and dried human heads in his hut, every one of which he had ‘won’ for himself. He knows the woods inch by inch by instinct, and Van says that if one could only make him talk, he could probably put you on the track of what happened to Crandall. But it depends a good deal on whether L’yan ‘takes’ to you. They are rather like children,—even the more murderous of them,—these little Dyaks. You'll see how you get on.”

Raxenfeld understood, for he had dealt with natives before. He arranged that L’yan should present himself at the bungalow at dawn on the following morning and accompany him first to the house of the missionary.

From there, if all was well with Katherine Renny, he intended going into the forest, and under the pretext of being a collector of the wonderful butterflies and moths of the country, slowly work his way to the Dyak village which Van Handen had mentioned on the previous evening. He intended to move slowly, to take many days in covering a distance which could be covered by ordinary traveling in two days; for he was anxious that his reputation as a harmless and unsuspicious collector of specimens should precede him to the village. He purposed also to buy specimens at ridiculously generous prices in order to attract the natives to him.

With this end in view he arranged with Van Handen to write orders on the store at the rubber plantation for those articles which the native values more than money, Van Handen agreeing to exchange goods for these orders and balance with him when he returned.


WHEN, on the second morning, Raxenfeld appeared on the veranda, so early that the dense woods at the foot of the hill were still hidden under layer upon layer of heavy mists, the insignificant-looking old head-hunter was waiting for him just outside the veranda. But it seemed that the native did not hear him come out from the room, for he did not turn. He appeared to be staring at something through the thinner mists that hung about that strange excrescence of rock farther round the hillside. Raxenfeld stood still and watched the native, who suddenly moved away in the direction of the rock, stealthily stooping as though stalking something.

Straining his eyes, Raxenfeld saw dimly some dark, blurred shape climbing up the rocky peak; and even as he stared, there came from the rocks a strange howling cry, partly whine, partly long-drawn-out bark, that was freighted with such a lamentable cadence of terror and despair as to send an involuntary shudder through the big frame of the American. For a moment he listened, his face blanched, his hand on the repeating pistol in his pocket, ready to run out if the cry were repeated.

“It sounded like some one in awful trouble—awful trouble,” he muttered, and then turned swiftly at the sound of a step behind him. It was Van Handen.

“You was stardled?” asked the Dutchman with a chuckle. “By the scream of the monkey?”

Raxenfeld went lax and laughed.

“Yes,” he said frankly; “I had forgotten the animal. I fancied for a moment it was some one in trouble. I was rather strung up—watching L’yan stalk something, I suppose.”

“Dot monkey is the noisiest I haf ever heard. Dot noise was the same noise the beast used to make aroundt the bungalow in the night—until Ware scared him with the shotgun. We haf ourselves become used to the morning song of the animal. Would you like to shoot him?”

“Lord, no! Let the poor brute live!” exclaimed Raxenfeld. “It always seems like murder to shoot a monkey.”

The Dutchman nodded and whistled sharply. L’yan, who was just disappearing in the bushes, rose instantly, sliding a Malayan creese away into his clothes. He came up to the veranda and listened submissively to a few brief sentences in the vernacular from Van Handen.

“He wanted to kill the animal,” said Van Handen.

Then he shook hands with Raxenfeld and gave him a few final words of advice.

“Keep in touch with me,” he said. “You will perhaps meet occasionally with natives on the way to the plantation, and by dem you can send a letter. And I will be answerable unto you for the safety of the liddle lady—Miss Renny. You haf left her in the best and most kindest hands, and dere will be noding to fear.”

So Raxenfeld said good-by, and following L’yan, headed for Wahlen’s house, where he expected to pick up two natives who had gone on with his equipment.


KATHERINE RENNY was mending rapidly,—so rapidly as not to be in the least danger,—but she was still much too weak to hope to be able to carry out her plan of accompanying Raxenfeld into the wilds. She was too intelligent to suggest his waiting until she should be fit to accompany him.

“Be sure that if there is anything to learn about poor Crandall, I shall not rest until I have learned it,” said Raxenfeld at parting. But he did not add that he would tell her nothing but good of the missing man. He had solved his problem now. If he could learn the fate of Crandall, he would tell her. But unless it was a creditable fate, he would give her no details.

She smiled rather wistfully.

“I know,” she said simply; then she said good-by and watched him until he disappeared with his four men into the dark humid tangle of the forest. Somehow, since she had come to Borneo and had seen it for herself, much of her hope had died. There was something deadly about this country—poisonous almost, with a sweet, hot, moist, steamy sickliness. And to the numbing grief and regret for her vanished lover, was suddenly added fear—fear for the safety of her friend—Raxenfeld.

She shivered in the sunlight, watching the spot where the forest had received Raxenfeld. She felt that she both feared and hated those dim, mysterious, liana-choked woods. Her mind strained back to a few words she had read in a description of the country when Crandall had first gone out, after their engagement. What was it the author of the book had written? Staring at the forest, she reluctantly recalled the words: “The Dyaks are less civilized. Their head-hunting—the sign amongst them of manhood—is practiced not from bloodthirstiness so much as from conformity to inexorable custom which demands it as an essential to matrimonial success.”

“‘Inexorable custom!’ Not bloodthirstiness, but ‘inexorable custom!’” she exclaimed.


SHE shuddered at the horror and menace of the fatal word:

“Inexorable—inexorable!”

Why, that was like Fate itself—even Death! Only Fate and Death were inexorable. Fate and Death—and the head-hunters!

And she did not dream that this strange country held worse things than the head-hunters.

Then, as she sat fighting the profound depression that was overwhelming her, she heard a queer indescribable little sound at the corner of the bungalow. She looked round and for a moment was startled.

A big grayish monkey was crouching by the veranda, staring in at her with a singular and hideous intensity, so that its eyes seemed enormous. She saw that the animal was trembling so violently that its teeth chattered involuntarily.

So they stared for a fraction of time; then the steps of Wahlen the missionary sounded as he crossed the dining-room to the veranda, and at once the animal turned and shambled clumsily away toward the woods. Katherine Renny noticed that it was bowed and bent like a very old man.

At the edge of the forest it stopped, turned to look back at the girl, and then vanished into the trees.

She fancied that a strange, low howling cry came from the spot where the ape had disappeared.


CHAPTER IV

The Thing That Howled

RAXENFELD had not penetrated half a mile into the forest before he realized that without the Dyak—L’yan—he would have been helpless. He was used to and at home in the vast, clean pine forests of the Northwest, and he was no stranger to the tangled profusion of African jungles; but here he was aware that he must learn a new style of woodcraft before he could travel alone for any distance or for any length of time. Under the giant teak, ironwood, sandalwood and ebony trees that shot up to an immense height was a riot and chaos of growth that hemmed them in like fold upon fold upon fold of some monstrous netting of living fibers. Lianas and creeping plants curled and climbed round the mighty trunks like huge snakes striving to strangle the trees; festoons and chains of vinelike growths hung from trunk to trunk like curtains or the vast webs of impossible nightmare spiders; dense, impassable growths of rattan and bamboo crowded solidly together between the tree-trunks in clumps so close that nothing but a snake could squirm through; and it was dim there with that vaguely sinister dimness and silence that is peculiar to those forests where the dense foliage high overhead completely shuts out the sun. Pervading everything there was the moist, oppressive, hothouse atmosphere that characterizes the low-lying districts of Dutch Borneo.

But through it all, in some mysterious, almost magical way of his own, the wizened L’yan threaded a devious though rarely faltering path. The guide said little, and it seemed to Raxenfeld that he pressed on with an eagerness that was too strained to be the result of anxiety to prove himself a good guide.

And when the party stopped about ten o’clock to eat, the strange reluctance of the guide to stop at all, convinced Raxenfeld that this was so. Sitting apart from the natives, he covertly watched the Dyak and took note of the quick, absent, ravenous way in which the man bolted his food, never once ceasing from staring intently in a certain direction through the dim forest that surrounded him. It was as though the man was watching something.


RAXENFELD decided to question him and beckoned. Even as he raised his hand, L’yan started to his feet, clapped to his shoulder the old single-barreled sporting-rifle with which Van Handen had supplied him, and pulled the trigger.

Raxenfeld, glancing sharply in the direction of the guide’s aim, was just in time to see a vague, gray shape vanish behind the interminable chain of creepers. He turned to L’yan.

“What was that?” he asked sharply.

In an uncouth, barbarous blend of Dutch and English and his own dialect, L’yan replied that he thought it was the ape which he had stalked at the rubber plantation. His beady eyes gleamed as he laboriously explained that it was a devil-monkey. He said that it was a strange kind of ape, one of a species that he—even he, L’yan of the woods—had never seen before, and that it was not a ‘good’ monkey. He explained that he had found its lair in the woods sometime before and that probably the party would pass it on the way to the village.

“It is an evil thing—no good,” said the little Dyak, strangely excited; and Raxenfeld left it at that. For himself he had no desire to shoot the animal, hideous though it appeared to be; but if it was necessary to the Dyak’s idea of things that the queer beast should be destroyed, Raxenfeld did not see any reason why he should forbid it.

They camped that night deep in the forest, after a long and difficult journey. Raxenfeld, for all his giant frame, was too exhausted to enjoy an after-supper pipe; and a quarter of an hour after camping he rolled up in his blankets and dropped into deep sleep. The porters lost no time in following his example. Only L’yan, the old head-hunter, remained awake. He sat in the shadows a little beyond the light of the camp-fire, brooding, the old sporting-rifle across his knees.


THE forest was very still, and out of the zone of light cast by the fire, was draped and hung with profound darkness. Occasionally the far cry of some hunted thing suddenly captured came squealing thinly out of the gulfs of blackness, and at times things rustled and slithered through the undergrowth at the edge of the tiny clearing in which the party was camped. But the head-hunter paid no attention to these sounds; it was as though he were listening for something else.

Presently a twig cracked far back in the woods, and he rose quickly, threw some wood on the fire, and having assured himself that the others were sleeping, passed quietly out into the darkness. In one second he was gone utterly. It seemed incredible that any human being could penetrate ten yards into that inky gloom without losing himself completely; but the head-hunter moved confidently, though more slowly than he had moved in the daytime. He half circled the camp, until he was on the farther side of the clearing from the direction from which the party had entered it. There he paused, invisible in the darkness, with the whole camp under his observation. He fixed his eyes upon a point across the clearing, and trembling slightly, as though from sheer excitement, waited, his rifle flung forward and balanced for instant use.

Again a twig cracked out in the darkness; and now from the same direction, came the sound of something moving through the jungle, drawing nearer and nearer. There was a low, brushing noise, like that made by one’s feet as one walks through the overgrown meadow, and suddenly something snarled horribly in a startled sort of way, quite close to the camp. The head-hunter’s features relaxed in a spasmodic grin—evidently the creature that was moving through the woods had blundered onto and alarmed some beast of prey that was skulking in the undergrowth, watching the camp.

Then, for a long time, was silence. But the Dyak waited with the unwearying patience of the savage that he was, his eyes immovably fixed upon the entry to the clearing.

The flames of the camp-fire began to sink lower. Once Raxenfeld turned over restlessly in his blankets, and the watcher shot a swift glance in the direction of the sleeping American.


AND then a new sound came suddenly out of the night—a strange and blood-chilling sound that was a frightful blend of howl and moan and, worse than either, the utterance of a human voice.

And it cried out in an indescribably blurred but nevertheless intelligible pronunciation:

“Raxenfel’! Oh, Raxenfel’!”

Before the cry died out, the big American was awake, and quick as a cat had sprung clear of his blankets and was listening intently, one hand on the butt of a pistol in his belt.

The watcher in the darkness lowered the rifle which had sprung to his shoulder at the instant the cry first came, and peered out into the fire-lit clearing with a puzzled expression in his beady eyes.

Then that lamentable voice rose again, just outside the camp.

“Raxenfel’! Raxenfel’!”

It sounded like the utterance of some dying thing.

Raxenfeld stepped lightly across the camp in the direction from which the voice called, and staring out into dark, answered it.

“Here I am. Here! Come!” he cried.

Then something stepped slowly, painfully, from the darkness into the flickering light cast by the waning fire—something apelike that stumbled as it came and drew great sobbing breaths.

“Raxenfel’! Raxenfel’!” it moaned, staring with blinking eyes at the big American.

Raxenfeld was suddenly aware that he was shuddering—great convulsions wrenched him where he stood; and then he was conscious of a terrible desire to laugh, to shriek—not the laughter of mirth but the fearful, discordant laughter of violent hysteria. He set his teeth together, fighting the insane desire, telling himself in a sort of dream to keep steady.

“Steady—steady now!” he heard himself saying; and then, as suddenly as it came, the fear of hysteria left him, and he was cool and balanced again.

“Good God!” he exclaimed, and stepped forward to the gray creature that stood blinking before him.

“Crandall!” said Raxenfeld, his veins like ice.

The thing that had been Crandall whimpered and moaned, nodding at the name. It was shivering, as a person shivers with ague.


RAXENFELD threw a blanket about the shivering wreck and said, with the steadiness of desperation: “Do you understand? You are to lay down—do nothing, say nothing—until I can get some warmth into you. Something has happened, I know—somebody has done something to you—I’ll hear it all presently. Meantime rest quietly and don’t be afraid. Warmth and food is what you need now—and sleep. Do you understand? Warmth and food and sleep—”

But the creature shook its head.

“Let me tell,” it said, and sat down laboriously by the fire.

Raxenfeld stared into the face of the creature, and his own grew white as he stared.

Then he said in a curiously quiet voice:

“Very well, Crandall, tell me what—you have to tell.”

But the thought had burned, a white-hot wire, through his brain as he spoke that it would be cruelty to save it, for it was that gray thing which had howled about the bungalow near the rubber plantation in the night, which had haunted that spur of rock on the hill- side and which had ‘understood guns’—even walking-stick guns.

And it was also Crandall the orchid-hunter—all that was left of him.

Truly “somebody had done something to him.”

And L’yan the watcher sat motionless in the darkness, with a strange fixed grin, listening. For many weeks he had been queerly anxious to possess the head of the thing. Such a head would crown his ghastly collection.


CHAPTER V

The Work of the Witch-Doctor

RAXENFELD made coffee, and Crandall drank it clumsily. Then, clasping his arms round his knees, he sat rocking to and fro before the fire for a long time, whimpering softly, staring in a queer, fascinated way at the fire.

“This is the first day I have been able to speak—they did something to my tongue and only now it is healing,” he said presently in his strange, blurred speech. He paused, blinking with lashless eyes at the fire.

Raxenfeld waited, looking almost furtively at the poor wretch. He saw the man’s hands were so lined and scored and seamed with old scars, and the nails were so long and talonlike, as to make them look unhuman. They were no longer white—indeed no part of the orchid-hunter’s skin was white now—it seemed to have been dyed or stained to a dark, leathery gray. But that was not the worst!

The unhappy man was covered with a singular growth of thick coarse grayish-brown hair—even the matted beard and the hair of his head were of the same strange coarseness and color.

And “they” seemed to have tampered—for lack of a better word—with the muscles of the man so that he could no longer carry himself upright, but went stooping.

And all of his face that was visible seemed to have been disfigured with the same diabolical skill.

Raxenfeld secretly studied the man, and a chill passed over him as he realized that, whoever it was that had committed this crime upon Crandall, the thing had been done with fiendish ingenuity.

And this was all that was left of that Crandall who, mainly by virtue of his physical beauty, had won Katherine Renny from him—James Raxenfeld.

The big man strove to thrust away from him the realization of the dilemma which now presented itself to him. Abject and terrible though Crandall still was, yet it seemed to Raxenfeld that he was not in danger of death; the warmth of the fire, the hot coffee, the blanket, the recovery of his speech and the meeting with Raxenfeld seemed to be stimulating him. He no longer shivered so violently, and his eyes seemed to be losing the glaze which had been upon them when he first stumbled into the firelight.


RAXENFELD waited. Presently Crandall told his story, and the American listened as a man listens to the speech of those who speak in awful dreams.

“It was the Dyak girl who was the beginning of it all—the witch-doctor,” said Crandall, in that slow, blurred, husky voice. “She was very pretty. She was not really a witch-doctor, either—only she was going to marry one of the real witch-doctors. She liked me better and followed me into the woods one day and told me so. And I always was a fool with women.”

He stared desperately at Raxenfeld and uttered a queer, cackling laugh.

“And that’s what it did for me—did for me. Out here in these infernal, moist, steamy swamps a man’s will gets sapped and weak—it’s like living in a greenhouse. The witch-doctor the girl was betrothed to got jealous and took me unaware one day. I felt something prick me—I remember—just as I was stooping to take an orchid I had found—and that was all.

“The next thing I knew was that I was lying pegged down on a floor of a hut in the wood, in awful pain—awful! The witch-doctor was bending over me with a knife and some hooks and needles —hurting me. The girl was tied up in a corner. When he saw that I was conscious, he pricked me again, and I became insensible again.

“I don’t know what he did. But when I woke again, I was lying on the floor of the hut. I was still in agony but no longer bound. The girl and the witch-doctor were gone. I lay there a long time. My skin seemed stiff—dry—apart from the pain. All night I lay there, and at dawn the next day I found I could crawl on my hands and knees. There was some food and water in the hut, and I ate and drank; and while I ate and drank, I saw a piece of broken mirror on the floor. I looked into it, and I saw what the witch-doctor had done to me. I was—like I am—the stains, the tattooing, the scars.

“He had left the mirror for me to see. I put down the mirror after a long time. There was something wrong with my tongue. I felt it. I tried to speak aloud. And I was dumb. I don’t know whether it was surgery or witchcraft or both. They know things, these natives, that white men do not know—or are ashamed to know.”


THE grotesque figure by the fire rocked to and fro, trembling.

“Whatever evil it is they know—doesn’t matter now. They’ve done for me—done for me,” he said. “Nothing can make me what I was. This morning I stood within a few yards of Katherine Renny, who was to have been my wife, and she did not recognize me.

“I was tracking you all-day until L’yan the guide fired at me. That little murderer knows there is something queer about me, and he wants my head; they say he has a collection of heads, smoked and dried, in some hidden-away village in the woods. He has often stalked me—he and others. Ware shot at me too. I used to go round the bungalow at nights, trying to call him, but I dare say it sounded more like howling.

“They never guessed I was anything but some kind of ape. I couldn’t talk, you see. I would have gone to old Van Handen at once if I could have spoken, but I was afraid to go and only make signs. I tried to write with a splinter of bone on some wood, but I couldn’t do it. That witch-doctor had done something to the top joint of my fingers.”

A frightful fit of coughing suddenly wrenched and tore the gray man.

“That’s the result of living in these woods,” he said. “I’m done for in half a dozen ways. The life I’ve lived for years—years,”—Raxenfeld had not the heart to explain that it was months, not years,—“dodging among the trees and hiding and skulking and watching for L’yan! I’m done for, and I don’t care. I’m glad.”

The gray man was silent.

Raxenfeld rose and crossed over to him.

“You'd better sleep,” he said. “We'll get back to the bungalow at the plantation to-morrow and see Van Handen. He knows the country—perhaps there is something he can do. We'll see.”


HE helped the wreck that had been Crandall into the little tent, wrapped him in rugs and blankets and left him. He sat long by the fire, smoking and thinking. But think as he would, he could see no hope for Crandall. As he had said himself, Crandall was “done for.” Physically he could never be the same—the knife and the frightful skill of the witch-doctor had done its evil work too thoroughly.

No doubt that horrible slaty stain could be removed from the man’s skin, but that was the least of the evil that had been wrought upon him. It was the work of the knife that was ineffaceable, and of the tattooing needle. And these were not all. There was something else—some psychological change in Crandall. He had hinted at witchcraft. Was it witchcraft that had created this psychological change for the worst in the unfortunate man?

For he had grown strangely and subtly animal-like.

Across the camp-fire Raxenfeld saw some one glide out of the darkness and, rifle in hand, approach him. It was L’yan, the old head-hunter.

Raxenfeld began to question him. The Dyak seemed willing to speak—anxious, His eyes glittered with an unholy excitement as in his uncouth blend of almost unintelligible Dutch and English, he explained that he had long guessed that the great gray ape of the rocks near the bungalow was no ape but a half-man.

There had been a rumor run through the woods, he said, that a witch-doctor had brutalized a man, reviving for purposes of revenge a terrible art that for hundreds, even thousands of years, had not been attempted by even the most depraved of the witch-doctors of Borneo. There were stories handed down, secretly from fathers to sons, among the natives, of how in past ages the witch-doctors did strange and terrible things for the punishment of those who they considered had injured them; and the worst of these things was to do to men what the witch-doctor had done to Crandall.

L’yan told what he knew, Raxenfeld listening gravely. At the end of it all the Dyak proffered his request.

“I will kill the witch-doctor and bring in his head,” he said simply, “if I am given, therefor, the head of the gray man.”

His teeth chattered with excitement as he made the fearful offer.


WITHOUT rising, Raxenfeld put out a hand, clipped fingers of steel round the stringy throat of the head-hunter, and pressed gently, without speaking. He could have squeezed the life out of the creature without effort. With his left hand he took the rifle from the clutching hands of the head-hunter.

Then, standing up, he dragged the man to his feet, searched him, removed a deadly little creese which was concealed in his clothing, and bound his wrists behind him.

Raxenfeld was no hero in the story-book sense. He was instead a man who knew the wilds and the ways of the wild.

He saw that the head-hunter must be wholly consumed with the idea of possessing the half-man’s head to dare attempt making such a bargain with him. So he proceeded at once to put it out of the native’s power to harm Crandall.

In a silence that was almost uncanny, he finished with the native, rolled him, bound and helpless, a few feet away, and was about to sit down again, when he heard a noise behind him—a dreadful sound that was half human, half animal. He turned swiftly, a chill shooting down his back.

The gray man had come halfway out of the tent and was watching him; it was the gray man who had uttered that eerie noise; and he was standing on all fours at the tent-opening, staring up at Raxenfeld, a queer reddish gleam in his eyes.

Raxenfeld quaked.

“For God’s sake, man!” he cried, his voice suddenly shrill as a woman’s. “Stand up!”

The thing that had been Crandall moved clumsily back into the tent, like a startled beast.

Raxenfeld, sick and shaking, resumed his vigil by the camp-fire.

Two hours later, when the first faint grayness of dawn filtered down through the trees, he woke the porters.

“Pack!” he ordered, and there was that in his voice which hastened their obedience.

Then he went into the tent.


THE gray man was asleep, moaning a little as he slept. He was lying in a curiously cramped attitude. He woke swiftly as Raxenfeld approached him to look more closely at the frightful changes in the man—woke with the startled and suspicious speed of a disturbed animal. He gave a weak laugh as he realized who it was.

He rose slowly and with Raxenfeld’s help put on the clothing which the American offered him. Raxenfeld noticed, without comment, that apparently he had no thought of washing, shaving, arranging his hair or of doing any of those things which most men, even in the heart of the wilds, are glad to do when opportunity occurs.

Presently he asked where they were going.

“To Van Handen at the plantation,” said Raxenfeld. “Perhaps he can help you.”

The gray man, who looked but little less terrible in his clothes, shook his head feebly, as though to suggest that Van Handen could do nothing.

“Where do we go after that?” he asked.

Raxenfeld hesitated.

“Where do you want to go?” he asked, his mind full of Katherine Renny.

The half-man wrung his clawlike hands.

“I don’t know,” he moaned, “I don’t know. Where can I go?”

Through Raxenfeld’s mind flashed the recollection of a gray-haired woman, sitting alone in a quiet country-house in Sussex—Crandall’s mother. To whom should he go if not to his mother?

But even as Raxenfeld shrank from suggesting any meeting with Katherine Renny, he shrank from suggesting that the gray man should return to his mother. It was not that the man was physically disfigured; that, despite the terrible limit to which it had been carried, was nothing which would turn either the betrothed or the mother from any man; it was the sinister certainty that somebody or something had wrought a psychological change in Crandall—a change for the worse.

Whether it was the mode of life he had endured for the past months, or whether it had been effected by the diabolical act of the witch-doctor, Raxenfeld was unable to guess; but he was sure, in his own mind, that the mental faculties and moral sense of Crandall had receded or slipped down from the pitch to which civilization had raised the primitive instincts of men. It was plain, staring, in every look and action of the ruined man.


RAXENFELD, himself a man with refined instincts, a clean mind and singularly well-developed self-control, recoiled at the thought of bringing out from the miasma and gloom of the forest and restoring to those two women this gross and fearful caricature of the man that they had loved.

And yet that was what he had set out to do. That was his duty.

He stood, thinking. Suppose Katherine Renny clung to this man, in spite of all—some women were built that way, he knew. Then, henceforward, he would carry through life the knowledge not only that had he lost her but that she was chained, by bonds of her own forging, to Crandall—what he was now and what he might become.

Then, suddenly, he postponed decision. He would wait until he had talked with Van Handen, who knew the country and its people so well.

“We will settle where you can go later,” he said, staring steadily at the wavering eyes of the gray man. It was then that he made the discovery that Crandall could not now meet his gaze. In the old days, he remembered, Crandall had been unusually bold of eye—could have outstared most people.

But now his gaze wavered shiftily, and Raxenfeld thrilled coldly as he realized this; Crandall seemed to have acquired something of the unseeing blankness of the stare of ar animal. He looked past one now—never directly at one.

“Is there anywhere in particular you wish to go immediately—anyone you want to see at once?” he asked the gray man.

“I want something to eat—no—I’ll go anywhere, to anyone,” returned Crandall vaguely.

So Raxenfeld gave him food, and decided for himself. They should go first to Van Handen at the bungalow.


CHAPTER VI

Back to the Slough

THEY had penetrated no more than one day’s journey into the forest, but before they had been an hour on the return march, it became clear to Raxenfeld that L’yan intended to travel back more slowly than he had come. Difficulties cropped up that had been unsuspected the day before.

They headed into dense tangles of growth that were found to be impassable and from which they had to retreat and go round; once at the foot of a steep slope they came suddenly upon, and were checked by, a hideous swamp, out of which grew gnarled and dwarfed trees, with huge swollen roots that sprawled and twisted like giant serpents about the poisonous-looking morass, intertwining with each other. Upon these grew strange, sickly blooms, and giant fungi thick with huge flies gorging on the foul jelly that was the flesh of the monstrous growths.

There were snakes crawling there, garishly painted, with flat, venomous heads. The place seemed alive with them.

The party forced their way along the side of this apparently limitless swamp for hours, until finally Raxenfeld called a halt.

He went up to L’yan, a big repeating pistol in his hand.

“Get us out of this,” he said in language the head-hunter would understand. “And quick! Make another mistake, and it will be your last. Do you understand?”

The guide nodded sullenly, and they took up the march again. This time there were no delays; obstructions were avoided with the same skill and woodcraft that L’yan had displayed on the day before, but the way seemed longer. They made only one brief halt for food, but when night fell again, they were not free from the forest.

Raxenfeld ordered the porters to make camp and approached L’yan, who, his hands still bound, stood scowling on the edge of the clearing. Raxenfeld roped him to a tree, without gentleness.

“If we have not reached the bungalow by noon to-morrow, you will never reach it, L’yan,” he said, tapping the pistol again significantly. “Your game goes to-day, but play it to-morrow, and you stake your life on it.”


A SLIGHT tremor ran through the body of the Dyak, but he made no reply; Raxenfeld turned to see about the food which Crandall had been asking for during the last hour. He had supplemented the more than double rations which Raxenfeld had given him throughout the day with strange fruits which he had continually picked from the trees and shrubs, and yet he was not satisfied.

Raxenfeld knew that he was devouring more than a man needed. Once he had suggested that it would be wise for the gray man to exercise some control over his appetite, but the creature, staring past him with shifty, wavering eyes, muttered in his blurred speech something about “hunger;” and a few minutes later, Raxenfeld, chancing to turn, saw him reaching awkwardly up for a cluster of big, white grapelike fruit that hung from a bough overhead, snatch it and literally bolt it.

That night the half-man disappeared. Raxenfeld had been long aware that since their first meeting in the forest he was deteriorating with uncanny swiftness; either that, or, the big American suspected, the unhappy creature had been strung up to a pitch above that which was normal with him by the excitement of finding his speech again and of seeing Raxenfeld. At any rate neither of them had evinced any desire to talk after their evening meal. Raxenfeld sat by the camp-fire, smoking, and the gray man, after eating to repletion, had stolen into the tent, apparently to sleep.

It was not until two hours later that Raxenfeld discovered he had gone. He must have crept away with the stealth and silence of a wild animal. The American saw that he had cast off the clothing which had been given him.

Against his will Raxenfeld felt relieved. The gray man had solved his rescuer’s problem for him. All that he need do now was to return to the bungalow, explain to Van Handen, who would see to it that L’yan and the porters were silenced, and then take Katherine Renny home—home to Crandall’s mother, until such time as he could win her over to making her home with him.

There would be the lie, of course. But Raxenfeld was prepared to tell that. After all, the two women had the memory of Crandall as he had been, and that was better, far better, than the shambling, unclean, shifty-eyed terrible reality.


RAXENFELD drew in a long breath.

Yes—if it was possible that there could be anything good in such a calamity, it was good that the monstrous gray thing had gone back to the forest. Not again would he, James Raxenfeld, endeavor to drag it out again from the secret places.

He thought it out, squared his shoulders and lighted his pipe afresh.

But a little devil of doubt twinged and pricked deep down in the bottom of his heart. “After all,” signaled this insistent little devil, “it is the easy way out. But have you done your best for this unhappy man? Have you considered what the skill of modern science, of the surgeons and physicians of the great cities could do for him? Have you given him one single chance?”

But Raxenfeld was no god. He was a man—human. Was he to throw everything away for that monster?

“Throw nothing!” he muttered scornfully. “Crandall’s down and out,—poor brute,—and I don’t intend to allow Katherine to blast her life for him.” He glared out across the camp, his chin thrust forward like a block of steel. He went back a little—what sort of man was Crandall in the first place to cause even a debased native to be jealous of him? What were Dyak girls to a man for whom Katherine Renny waited?

Raxenfeld suddenly ground his teeth. “He was a blackguard at best,” he said. “Right or wrong, I’ll leave him to the woods.”

Then he turned in and slept.

At the first sign of dawn next day they started. No one of them was more anxious than L’yan.

“Remember—noon, you hound,” with a menacing tap at the big pistol, had been Raxenfeld’s greeting; and L’yan, apparently, was desperately anxious to make the bungalow by noon.


WITH the going of the gray man, L’yan’s desire to keep the party in the forest seemed to have gone also.

Raxenfeld tramped behind the guide, brooding silently. He could not quite understand the stealing away of the gray man, whose relief at being recognized and rescued by another white man had, at first sight, seemed so tremendous and unfeigned.

But midway between dawn and noon, it was all made clear to him.

At that hour L’yan, threading his complex path through the undergrowth, stopped suddenly, turned and shook his head warningly.

Raxenfeld and the porters halted; and the guide, whispering huskily to the American to be silent, told him to look round a big clump of rattan just ahead.

Proceeding cautiously, he did so. He saw a little clearing, in the middle of which two figures were crouching over a third that lay extended on the ground.

One of the crouching figures was the gray man; the other was smaller; and at once Raxenfeld guessed that this was the Dyak woman—the betrothed of the witch-doctor—for whom Crandall had paid so dire a price. She it was who had lured the gray man back to the wilds.

Raxenfeld could not quite gather what it was they were doing to the still figure that was stretched on the earth.

But L’yan the head-hunter did. He was peering and trembling like a hound in leash.

Raxenfeld drew him back.

“What are they doing?” he asked.

The eyes of the head-hunter glittered. His answering whisper hissed slowly out through his filed teeth like escaping steam.

“It is the witch-doctor—he is dead, and she has killed him. She too is a witch-doctor,—I knew her of old,—and now she teaches the half-man certain rites.” Raxenfeld shuddered, without knowing why, and stole forward again.


CLOSE to the crouching forms smoldered a wood fire, and as he looked, the smaller of the figures moved from the body to the fire, carrying something that looked like an arm.

Then Raxenfeld understood, and swift on the heels of understanding came decision.

He would save Crandall from this—the rest was awful enough, but to crown it all with some fearful rite of cannibalism!

The big pistol in his hand, he stepped round the bush, calling sharply:

“Crandall! Oh, Crandall!”

The gray man sprung clumsily clear of the body, turned for a second toward the American, grimacing, and then shambled hurriedly away across the clearing, the woman darting alongside.

Not until they were on the extreme edge of the undergrowth did Raxenfeld fire.

Then the pistol rang out twice, and clutching at each other, the woman and the thing that had been Crandall stopped suddenly, poised inertly for a second and dropped.

It had been the last chance of saving Crandall from himself, or from the thing he had become, and Raxenfeld had taken it.

It needed no more than a glance to confirm what L’yan the guide had said.

Raxenfeld set the porters to burying the witch-doctor and the woman, who had also been disfigured.

But Crandall he buried himself.


CHAPTER VII

The Return

THEN he cut the bonds of L’yan.

“We will return now to the bungalow,” he said to the men. Then, pointing to Crandall’s grave, he said to L’yan: “Let this not be spoken of—tell these men that. There lies the body of a white man who, made mad by the evil deeds of others, would have done evil deeds himself. You have seen a little—no more than a little—of the might of the white man. Fear it, then, for I say that if it ever should come to their knowledge that one of their brothers had been so maddened as that one”—he pointed still at the grave—“by your people, then will they come here and blot out you and all your race from the face of this country; and neither your poisoned arrows, nor your steel shall save you, nor your forest retreats hide you from them. Now march!”

And so they left that place and presently came out of the woods to the bungalow.

Van Handen, smoking on the veranda, saw them emerge and came quickly to meet them. He looked curiously at Raxenfeld as he shook hands.

“You haf seen—tell me what you haf seen,” he said.

And Raxenfeld told him, as briefly as possible. He listened very attentively; then he turned to the men and spoke at some length to them.

When he finally dismissed them, he turned again to Raxenfeld.

“Dey will tell noding,” he said gravely. “Come now to the bungalow and refresh yourself with a bath and change and razor. Den we will eat, and after, haf the story again—slow and correct and sure. And den we must arrange a story for the liddle lady at our friendt Wahlen’s. The true story is nod the story for her—and dot poor young man’s mother. The lie dot com- forts is better than the truth dot breaks the heart—if the lie is believed to be the truth.”

Raxenfeld softened strangely to the old Dutchman.

“You think I did the right thing, then?”

Van Handen offered his hand.

“Mine friendt,” he said seriously, “you did the only t’ing dere was to do.” Then, quietly but very gravely, he added: “I haf heard of many dings in dis strange country, and I do speak in complete ignorance when I say to you dot you saved dot young man’s soul when you killed his body. Perhaps it may be dot I am old-fashioned and too religious, but if dot young man had been mine own son, den I would be mos’ grateful to you for dot shot.”

Then, silent and unusually moved, they went slowly to the bungalow.


SO Raxenfeld “failed” to accomplish that which he had set out to do. Very gently he and Van Handen explained to Katherine Renny that the chances of Crandall’s ever emerging again from those great mysterious forest-glooms were so slight as to be practically nonexistent. And so she was convinced and in due course, sailed with Raxenfeld for England.

There, with Crandall’s mother, Raxenfeld left her. Of his own love he spoke no more then—for it was not fitting. But the months are passing smoothly, and from her letters, Raxenfeld knows that the first shock of grief has given way to regret less poignant. And he waits patiently, with the calm patience that only a big-souled and strong man possesses—until the time comes for him to go to her and take her. It will come; he knows it, and Katherine Renny is slowly, slowly beginning to realize it also. Soon she will see that she can love Raxenfeld without disloyalty to the dead Crandall. Then will be Raxenfeld’s hour.

For the things he did,—and did not,—Raxenfeld no longer reproaches himself. At first there were doubts, self-questionings, almost remorse. But all that is conquered. There are things which a white man should not do—Crandall had done them. There are things which no man, white or black, must do—the half-man was on the verge of doing them. So Raxenfeld killed him. Whether it was right or wrong, let no man judge who has not faced the problem that Raxenfeld faced out there in those grim forests where ethics loom less large than here in the heart of a civilization as merciless in its way as the savagery of the land of the head-hunters.


The End

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.


The longest-living author of this work died in 1952, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 71 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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