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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 Ishall 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.