The Blond Spiders/Epilogue

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EPILOG

IT’S all right, gov’nor,” Plessons was saying. “One on ’em got yer from the back winder—under yer left shoulder blade and frough yer ribs. Lorst a lot of blood, yer did, and me too. Got me in the thigh, ast ’em. But I pushed his ugly dial in with a bullet. These two gents——” as Tony’s eyes bewilderedly regarded a tall, blond-bearded man and a short, red-bearded one— “Mr. Boulters and Mr. Vansittart, they kinder shoved in ter help along.”

“But the—these dumb blacks turned on the bodies, didn’t they?” inquired Tony recalling his last memory.

“Sure they did,” said the tall man,” and mighty glad to get their own back, believe me!”

“Say, aren’t you American?” asked Tony.

“Sure I’m American,” laughed the other man, Vansittart. “And this red —— here’s English, Dr. Peter Boulters.”

“But how did you get here? The spiders, I mean, and——

“We were here already—very much so in fact,” returned Boulters. “But that’s a long yarn and——

“Say, where,” exclaimed Tony, anxiously peering around the room, which was empty save for the three men and Sawyer lying on blankets near him,” where are the Kommandant and the Doktor?

“Oh, they’re all right,” assured Vansittart. “Roped and hog-tied in the next hut, ready to turn over to the authorities when they arrive to take charge of everything. None of the others left. There was no holding ’em once those dumb black —— got going good. They massacred every darn one, and I can’t blame ’em! And they would those others as well if we hadn’t have stood over them.”

“Feelin’ better?” inquired the English doctor. “I patched you up, you know.”

“Thanks; feeling fine!” replied Tony. “Except mighty thirsty.”

“Good. Then you barge along and tell your end of the yarn, and we’ll get things straightened out.”

The three men sat down in a half-circle about him, and Tony, after a drink of cold tea, began as briefly as possible his account of their adventures.

“Say,” interrupted Vansittart when he had mentioned the finding of the old man and the dumb Swahili, “what was his name?”

“Never knew,” returned Tony and related how the old man had died.

“Poor old Plexy!” exclaimed Boulters. “They got him, you see, Van.”

“He was my partner for seven years,” explained Vansittart. “Tried to get a message out but— I’ll tell you later.”

Tony had omitted to relate the story of the fight with Sawyer and his subsequent suspicions of Bodiker, but when he came to the incident of the dumb Swahili and the hypodermic syringe they returned forcibly. He stopped; and, turning to Sawyer lying near him, demanded sharply:

“What d’you know about that syringe, Sawyer? Was it poison or not?”

As the man raised his eyes Tony noticed that they were faintly veiled. The English doctor leaned forward and whispered:

“He’s dying. They got him through the left lung and the spine. He knows it, poor ——.”

“Oh, then——” muttered Tony; but Plessons cut in with a curt—

“Better get it off yer chest, Sawyer.”

Sawyer’s weary eyes, once so truculent, sought Tony’s, and he sighed and winced.

“’S right, Mr. Westlake,” he said, in a weak voice. “I’ll come clean. I tried ter do yer dirt and that——” Sawyer’s vocabulary was still strong. “Sure there was poison in the syringe. Bodiker meant it fer the ol’ guy ’cause he knew us both out in ’Frisco.

“Bodiker had it on me fer a job back in Chi, and we took some dough off that Plexington feller. I held him up and Bodiker frisked him. The same night the bulls raided a dive and pinched us both; but that there rat planted the goods on me. That old guy knew him all right, but he’d bought a alibi and got away wit’ it, and I got five years. I broke out and came after him. ——! If I’d ha’ killed him I’d ha’ had two up against me and murder, too, so I took five thousand off him, and he brought me in on a game which he said was all velvet. That was you, Mr. Westlake.

“Knew yer brother, so he said. He was wise to yer fam’ly anyway. He’d got a pull wit’ a feller called Jack Gunner; had some split game wit’ him ter get ol’ Silas Gunner’s dough. Dunno ’zackly how Bodiker got his hold on Jack Gunner. Card game and a woman, I heard, which would ha’ put him in bad wit’ the old man. Anyway Alick took it on.

“Docs said the old guy hadn’t a week ter run. They was right to a day. But then Jack Gunner fell down and got hisself ironed out by a automobile and died half an hour before the old gazoo; and his going ter grab the whole works if he’d ’a’ lived! What d’yer know about that?”

“Alick was crying crazy. His cut-in on five million bucks gone blooey! Then he comes back wit’ a wonder. Dunno where he got the dope—shyster lawyer, I guess—but he’s wise that the old man has a whatjercallit to his will.”

"A codicil?” suggested Boulters, very much interested.

“Sure, that’s it. The darned co-dee-cil said that if youse two, yer brother and yerself, Mr. Westlake, was ter survive Jack Gunner you was ter get the whole works fifty fifty.”

“Good God!” interrupted Tony.” Then I’m a millionaire!”

“Sure y’are, now yer brother’s dead. But yer wasn’t ter get it until yer was twenty-five. Y’are worth a cool five million bucks, and that’s what Alick was after.”

——!” said Tony. “Then Bodiker raced across to Paris, dug me out and put over the elephant-hunting trip and the mutual-will stuff! You see,” he added in explanation to the strangers, “I joined up with the Canadians under another name, so the lawyers would not have known my address, not even through the army, and down on that dump in Soissons I never saw the American papers. He never intended I should come back; and you, Sawyer, meant to get me that night of my birthday!”

“You got it, mister,” acknowledged Sawyer callously. “But I didn’t know then yer was a regular feller. ’Sides, I was soused. Anyway, what could I do? Alick had it over me good and proper. I was ter do the dirty work and get a lousy hundred thousand. He hadn’t no guts, Alick. Allus scared ter death.

“If I git a dirty job ter do I likes ter get it over,” stated Sawyer naively. “But him! He was scared stiff of that—of Plessons there. Don’t yer remember how he kicked when yer wanted ter take Plessons on? Didn’t want no witnesses. Then he reckons it ’ud be safer and got sore wit’ me ’cause I butted in before the bell rang? But ye’re a regular feller, Mr. Westlake; and yer give me all I was asking fer that night, yer did!”

He smiled feebly.

“Then, as I said, when he ain’t got no need to bump that old guy Plexington off he reckons maybe you’d get sick and use that fer quinin. But he never had no luck, Alick hadn’t.”

Sawyer paused for breath and resumed with the tone of one not caring.

“I wanted ter bump yer off right then, Mr. Westlake, ’cause I was through wit’ this wild nature stuff; give me the willies, that did. But Alick was scared stiff, wanted regular witnesses and all that kind of bull. Reckoned he could buy Plessons if he had time; but, ——! He wanted a operating table ter get a couple o’ bits outer him!”

“When them squareheads come up Alick had a hunch we could tell ’em a tale and get ’em ter put yer away; or I was ter do the job and put the goods on them; see? And then he reckoned he’d have them on Plessons as witnesses. Nuts, he was.

“But me, I’d lamped more’n a lousy hundred thousand wit’ them di’monds; but Alick, he wouldn’t listen ter reason; wanted ter grab both and freeze me out. That’s what made me so sore that I bumped him off. Didn’t mean ter.

“Only hit him once,” he added plaintively and gave a gargling sigh. “Allus been a boob one way and another. Now he’s through, and I guess I am.”

There was silence for the falling of an autumn leaf. Then Vansittart said in a conventional tone—

“And you were saying, Westlake?”

“Eh? Oh, yes.” And, recalling the story, Tony continued.

“Thanks!” said Vansittart when he had finished.

“Oh, no,” said Tony. “We couldn’t very well do anything else to save our hides, and——

“That’s all right,” put in Boulters. “But—er—I don’t think you realize—yet—what you’ve done. Er—you tell him, Van.”

“Well,” began Vansittart, “we—Plexy and I—bumped into the first sign of this outfit in Chinde. We had been up on a mining proposition in Portuguese East which had fizzled out; nothing doing under the dagoes; too much graft and all that. One night while we were waiting for a boat we were guzzling warm beer in a dago dive when we met up with a fellow who called himself Flaxman, but was as boche as they make ’em. Spoke English—or American, for he’d been years in the States.

“He was pretty soused and talked a lot about having struck it rich up country, but was mighty mysterious about the direction. When he got tanked up a bit more he let out that he was trying to fix an American passport; said he’d lost his, and began cussing out our consul because he wouldn’t believe his yarn.

“When we told him to lay off that stuff, he sobered up a bit, but insisted that he meant it; would give a thousand dollars for one; and when he appealed to the dago proprietor he backed him up. I advised him—wasn’t my business anyway—to get down to the Transvaal and fix things there, but he said he couldn’t make it. Looked in pretty bad shape, too. At last he shambled off, saying he was going to bed and would see us in the morning.

“Nobody else in the joint except a couple of drunken stokers from a British boat, and out of curiosity we started pumping the proprietor. He said the fellow was all right, and after a bit of stalling showed us a raw diamond he’d bought from the man for about a hundred dollars. Peach of a little stone worth a couple of thousand at least. Kind of made our mouths water. Funny,” he broke off the narrative. “I’m pretty well fixed, yet I got all worked up over that. It isn’t the cash; it’s the fun going after it, I guess.

“Well, while we were pawing this stone about a couple of shots sent us out into the street to see what was on, and we found the same bird lying on the sidewalk not a hundred yards away—one through his lungs and another through the guts. We carried him back to the beer joint and sent for a doctor, but he was all in. He lasted about half an hour, raving about a second Kimberley, Lake Kivu, valley and volcanoes, spiders and —— knows what. Noticed when we opened up his shirt that his body was covered with half-healed sores; had a few on his, face and neck too. Then he had a bit of a lucid interval just before he passed out, mumbled something about that we were white and he hoped the Americans would take it away from ’em and finally died, cursing the Kaiser and every boche under heaven.

“Hadn’t got a thing on him—not even papers. We reckoned at the time that he’d been talking too much and some dago yeggs had laid for him. But it wasn’t. Anyway we took up the invitation, and a month later we recognized the valley and the volcanoes. Hit ’em from the south and blundered down through the spiders.”

“Through the spiders!” echoed Tony. “But didn’t they get you?”

“Sure they did! Of course, making a run for it and half falling down the steep escarpment, we didn’t get bitten up as bad as a fellow would climbing up. But they made a pretty mess of us.”

“I came barging through them, too,” put in Boulters.

“But how is it——

“Wait. I’ll give you that dope in a minute,” resumed Vansittart. “Well, the first thing we knew—you see the darned camp was hidden by that spur back there—we bumped right into this outfit and came ambling up as meekly as lambs, and they just said, ‘Put ’em up!’”

“Me too,” concurred the British doctor. “The bally war being over, I never dreamed of finding a concentration camp of heinies!”

“Well, you see that renegade boche back there at Chinde had never put us wise to the fact that there was a whole column pretty nearly of his brothers here. Anyway they’d got us good, and squarehead fashion, weren’t any too polite about it. Dumped us over there where we found Boulters. He’d only been here about a month then. You’d never guess what their game is—or was, I’m mighty glad to say, thanks to you fellows. A regular Tirpitz-cum-blood-and-iron-cum-Lenine stunt—and then some, believe me!

“WELL,” resumed Vansittart, “it’s the everlasting superman-blond-beast-Deutschland-über-alles stuff. They’ll never get that out of their nuts. They have that antlike efficiency and persistence—just like these darned spiders. As soon as you smash their web they start right in spinning another; and their souls are like the spiders’—no call of humanity, no pity for others or themselves will move ’em.”

“Yes, I guess that’s right,” assented Tony, thinking of the von Muhlhauser’s cold indifference to his own fate or his men’s.

“Sure I’m right,” said Vansittart with a touch of heat in his voice. “Well, let me get back to the beginning as far as we’ve been able to dope it out from the Herr Doktor. He’s a vain, talkative swine, and he’ll yap for hours boasting of his accursed system; and he’s the king pin of the works here.

“It seems he was caught out here when the war started, hunting specimens for his experiments, and joined up with their forces as ordinary surgeon. At the end they got chased out of Uganda and stumbled on this valley by accident. They had the luck of the ——, or Odin maybe; he is said to provide specially for his chosen; for at the time locusts hit the valley, and apparently the spiders were so gorged that they were sluggish. Anyway they marched down in a formation expressly designed by the Herr Professor—mark this!—himself—you bet!—with the Kommandant and officers in the center, about them the white soldiers, protected again by a double rank of blacks; for Herr Professor had a hunch that maybe the spiders were poisonous. Well, they got through with a few dozen blacks bitten up and a few whites; and by way of compensation—just to show the Lord was leading ’em all right!—they found the diamonds.

“They were tickled to death. From the military point of view the valley was a splendid hide-out and depôt for arms; the stones would provide a Kolossal—yep, Herr Doktor's own word!—fortune for the benefit of the monarchist cause; supply the sinews they couldn’t pry loose anywhere else, I guess. And from a scientific point of view the place was ideal to carry out the professor’s experiments, which, I gather, had been denied full expansion in the Fatherland by the sentimentalists—if there be any sich animile there!

“They’re efficient all right. First thing Herr Doktor starts after an anti-toxin to counteract the spiders’ poison and gets it. That by the way is how that Flaxman fellow got away. He was a medical orderly, stole a phial of the anti-toxin and hopped with a parcel of stones. They sent after him, for they have agents in Chinde from whom they get supplies; but they daren’t make a big fuss, so they quietly bumped him off.

“The Kommandant digs in and wants labor. Sends off a couple of officers and men and steals some diving suits from that wreck on the Tana—although we’ve never seen ’em and they keep ’em hidden, I understand. Suits were more practical for raids and reconnoitering than anti-toxin, which is apt to incapacitate the patient for weeks. Then they sent out parties to round up bunches of natives for mine labor, drove ’em through, shot anti-toxin into ’em to pull ’em round and slit their tongues and pierced their ear drums so that in case of escape—! Very efficient, huh?

“We tried to get after that anti-toxin; but since Flaxman bolted brother doc keeps it hidden somewhere. Then we drew lots to make a break and get a letter out for help before going under. Poor old Plexy! Well, you know.

“We were going to give him a month—unless Herr Professor started something before—and then break or bust. We planned to either buy—the askaris didn’t love their bosses, believe me!—or fix the sentry; then fire the camp and while they were busy, try to burn a path through the spiders.

“We had decided on tomorrow night, and you can imagine we felt good when you fellows started. The sentry simplified matters by bolting off to see what was on; and we, guessing you were some other unlucky —— who had blundered into the trap, had the hunch to stir up the deaf-and-dumb crowd. We had some —— of a job—and working against time, for we knew you couldn’t last long—getting the idea into their nuts; but when they did get it and the askaris joined their brothers and finished the job they went strong. Now, doc, you take over the technical side of their pretty little game.”

“Well,” began the doctor, “the scheme is built on false biological' premises. It appears, from what he himself says, that he had already begun researches in Germany before the war, but had had considerable difficulty in securing—er—suitable material.

“He had need to have a quantity of—er—subjects for observation, which led him, I believe, to come to Africa with the purpose of experimenting on some form of anthropoid which hadn’t turned itself into trade unions and sentimental societies. Well, chance led him here, as Van told you, and he determined to make the most of a devil-sent opportunity.

“He began first on the apes and a few of the lesser gorilla, which had been trapped in this valley, and the blacks, using his field instruments.

“Then when the anthropoids were exhausted and he had replenished his laboratory through their agents at Chinde, he actually started on some of their own white men. Probably that fellow Flaxman as a medical orderly—and he was a good blond specimen—knew something and got the wind up. We felt sure our time was coming too, and that was one main reason we were willing to take any chance to get away.

“Mentioning blonds, we get a hint of his trouble—a fixed idea and technical insanity. The hypothesis is that the Nordic is the superior race, the superman of the genus homo; and of course the Germans are the—er—only and original. Roughly speaking we—the Anglo-Saxon races of England and America—are what he calls sub-Nordic and renegades and therefore the best material for his—er—scientific purposes.

“Now historically it is a fact that empires have a habit of becoming eventually bloated and weak, such as the Roman and so on, and consequently have fallen before a more vigorous barbarian horde. According to the Germanic theory war, and only war, can keep a nation fit; but this mighty seer sees beyond this; realizes, so he says, the inevitable future for which he is working to preserve the Germanic race. It is an axiom, of course, that in the next war—which they all say they are now preparing for; I nearly said spinning!—they will be victorious and sweep the world.

“Now probably you will be surprized, gentlemen, to hear that the good and ruthless Doktor maintains that there shall—mark that ‘shall,’ and confound it not with the weak ‘will’; no pun intended!—of the pacifists—there shall be no more war in this shortly-coming-but-not-yet-here age.”

The doctor smiled grimly.

“Yes, the Germanic race shall be—Lord,' I feel like Moses with the tablets of the Law!—shall be lords of the universe, all apparently engaged in scientific research and creating mighty works of art, and presumably—at least one hopes for some human touch!—swilling beer and sausages while we—um—sub-Nordic and other inferior races sweat willingly for the greater glory of them and the All Highest—let’s hope they’ll give God a chance even if it’s only ‘Me und Gott’!—all by means of the Herr Professor Doktor’s patent for suppressing the will-to-power.”

“Will-to-power? How?”

“By the simple process of a certain operation—to avoid technicalities—upon the left hemisphere of the brain. To this end—which obviously justifies the means!—he has been experimenting. His thesis is that he can by the transference and grafting of a certain portion of the lobe of a black man’s brain upon that of, say, a sub-Nordic—Van, for example!—take the objectionable kick out of his system and replace it with a highly desirable slave instinct, and vice versa, transform the nigger into a good slave with the energy of a white man.”

“You mean to say,” exclaimed Tony, “that that homicidal maniac has been——

“Yes. On the monkeys, the blacks, some of his own people as well as several strangers, Belgian Service people and a Portuguese explorer who had had the ill luck to blunder, as we did, into his web. He admits—remark the delicacy!—that he hasn’t quite succeeded yet—as those who don’t die go mad. Listen!”

A silence save for the hum of the distant forest was broken by that hoarse, crazy scream, rasping on the nerves of the four white men like a blunt knife on a raw nerve.