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 At the Earth's Core


by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

PROLOGUE

IN THE FIRST PLACE PLEASE BEAR IN MIND THAT I do not
expect you to believe this story. Nor could you wonder
had you witnessed a recent experience of mine when,
in the armor of blissful and stupendous ignorance,
I gaily narrated the gist of it to a Fellow of the Royal
Geological Society on the occasion of my last trip to London.

You would surely have thought that I had been detected
in no less a heinous crime than the purloining of the Crown
Jewels from the Tower, or putting poison in the coffee
of His Majesty the King.

The erudite gentleman in whom I confided congealed
before I was half through!--it is all that saved him
from exploding--and my dreams of an Honorary Fellowship,
gold medals, and a niche in the Hall of Fame faded into
the thin, cold air of his arctic atmosphere.

But I believe the story, and so would you, and so would
the learned Fellow of the Royal Geological Society, had you
and he heard it from the lips of the man who told it to me.
Had you seen, as I did, the fire of truth in those gray eyes;
had you felt the ring of sincerity in that quiet voice;
had you realized the pathos of it all--you, too, would believe.
You would not have needed the final ocular proof that I
had--the weird rhamphorhynchus-like creature which he
had brought back with him from the inner world.

I came upon him quite suddenly, and no less unexpectedly,
upon the rim of the great Sahara Desert. He was standing
before a goat-skin tent amidst a clump of date palms within
a tiny oasis. Close by was an Arab douar of some eight
or ten tents.

I had come down from the north to hunt lion. My party
consisted of a dozen children of the desert--I was the only
"white" man. As we approached the little clump of verdure
I saw the man come from his tent and with hand-shaded eyes
peer intently at us. At sight of me he advanced rapidly
to meet us.

"A white man!" he cried. "May the good Lord be praised! I
have been watching you for hours, hoping against hope that
THIS time there would be a white man. Tell me the date.
What year is it?"

And when I had told him he staggered as though he had
been struck full in the face, so that he was compelled
to grasp my stirrup leather for support.

"It cannot be!" he cried after a moment. "It cannot be!
Tell me that you are mistaken, or that you are but joking."

"I am telling you the truth, my friend," I replied.
"Why should I deceive a stranger, or attempt to, in so
simple a matter as the date?"

For some time he stood in silence, with bowed head.

"Ten years!" he murmured, at last. "Ten years, and I
thought that at the most it could be scarce more than one!"
That night he told me his story--the story that I give you
here as nearly in his own words as I can recall them.

 

 

I

TOWARD THE ETERNAL FIRES

 

I WAS BORN IN CONNECTICUT ABOUT THIRTY YEARS ago.
My name is David Innes. My father was a wealthy mine owner.
When I was nineteen he died. All his property was to be
mine when I had attained my majority--provided that I
had devoted the two years intervening in close application
to the great business I was to inherit.

I did my best to fulfil the last wishes of my parent--
not because of the inheritance, but because I loved
and honored my father. For six months I toiled in the
mines and in the counting-rooms, for I wished to know
every minute detail of the business.

Then Perry interested me in his invention. He was an old
fellow who had devoted the better part of a long life
to the perfection of a mechanical subterranean prospector.
As relaxation he studied paleontology. I looked over
his plans, listened to his arguments, inspected his working
model--and then, convinced, I advanced the funds necessary
to construct a full-sized, practical prospector.

I shall not go into the details of its construction--it lies
out there in the desert now--about two miles from here.
Tomorrow you may care to ride out and see it. Roughly, it is
a steel cylinder a hundred feet long, and jointed so that
it may turn and twist through solid rock if need be.
At one end is a mighty revolving drill operated by an
engine which Perry said generated more power to the cubic
inch than any other engine did to the cubic foot.
I remember that he used to claim that that invention
alone would make us fabulously wealthy--we were going
to make the whole thing public after the successful issue
of our first secret trial--but Perry never returned
from that trial trip, and I only after ten years.

I recall as it were but yesterday the night of that momentous
occasion upon which we were to test the practicality
of that wondrous invention. It was near midnight when we
repaired to the lofty tower in which Perry had constructed
his "iron mole" as he was wont to call the thing.
The great nose rested upon the bare earth of the floor.
We passed through the doors into the outer jacket,
secured them, and then passing on into the cabin,
which contained the controlling mechanism within the
inner tube, switched on the electric lights.

Perry looked to his generator; to the great tanks that held
the life-giving chemicals with which he was to manufacture
fresh air to replace that which we consumed in breathing;
to his instruments for recording temperatures, speed, distance,
and for examining the materials through which we were to pass.

He tested the steering device, and overlooked the mighty
cogs which transmitted its marvelous velocity to the giant
drill at the nose of his strange craft.

Our seats, into which we strapped ourselves, were so arranged
upon transverse bars that we would be upright whether
the craft were ploughing her way downward into the bowels
of the earth, or running horizontally along some great
seam of coal, or rising vertically toward the surface again.

At length all was ready. Perry bowed his head in prayer.
For a moment we were silent, and then the old man's hand
grasped the starting lever. There was a frightful roaring
beneath us--the giant frame trembled and vibrated--there
was a rush of sound as the loose earth passed up through
the hollow space between the inner and outer jackets
to be deposited in our wake. We were off!

The noise was deafening. The sensation was frightful.
For a full minute neither of us could do aught but cling
with the proverbial desperation of the drowning man to
the handrails of our swinging seats. Then Perry glanced
at the thermometer.

"Gad!" he cried, "it cannot be possible--quick! What does
the distance meter read?"

That and the speedometer were both on my side of the cabin,
and as I turned to take a reading from the former I could
see Perry muttering.

"Ten degrees rise--it cannot be possible!" and then I
saw him tug frantically upon the steering wheel.

As I finally found the tiny needle in the dim light I
translated Perry's evident excitement, and my heart
sank within me. But when I spoke I hid the fear which
haunted me. "It will be seven hundred feet, Perry," I said,
"by the time you can turn her into the horizontal."

"You'd better lend me a hand then, my boy," he replied,
"for I cannot budge her out of the vertical alone.
God give that our combined strength may be equal to the task,
for else we are lost."

I wormed my way to the old man's side with never a doubt
but that the great wheel would yield on the instant
to the power of my young and vigorous muscles. Nor was
my belief mere vanity, for always had my physique been
the envy and despair of my fellows. And for that very
reason it had waxed even greater than nature had intended,
since my natural pride in my great strength had led me
to care for and develop my body and my muscles by every
means within my power. What with boxing, football,
and baseball, I had been in training since childhood.

And so it was with the utmost confidence that I laid hold
of the huge iron rim; but though I threw every ounce of my
strength into it, my best effort was as unavailing as Perry's
had been--the thing would not budge--the grim, insensate,
horrible thing that was holding us upon the straight
road to death!

At length I gave up the useless struggle, and without a word
returned to my seat. There was no need for words--at least
none that I could imagine, unless Perry desired to pray.
And I was quite sure that he would, for he never left an
opportunity neglected where he might sandwich in a prayer.
He prayed when he arose in the morning, he prayed
before he ate, he prayed when he had finished eating,
and before he went to bed at night he prayed again.
In between he often found excuses to pray even when the
provocation seemed far-fetched to my worldly eyes--now
that he was about to die I felt positive that I should
witness a perfect orgy of prayer--if one may allude
with such a simile to so solemn an act.

But to my astonishment I discovered that with death staring
him in the face Abner Perry was transformed into a new being.
From his lips there flowed--not prayer--but a clear and limpid
stream of undiluted profanity, and it was all directed
at that quietly stubborn piece of unyielding mechanism.

"I should think, Perry," I chided, "that a man of your
professed religiousness would rather be at his prayers
than cursing in the presence of imminent death."

"Death!" he cried. "Death is it that appalls you?
That is nothing by comparison with the loss the world
must suffer. Why, David within this iron cylinder we have
demonstrated possibilities that science has scarce dreamed.
We have harnessed a new principle, and with it animated
a piece of steel with the power of ten thousand men.
That two lives will be snuffed out is nothing to the world
calamity that entombs in the bowels of the earth the
discoveries that I have made and proved in the successful
construction of the thing that is now carrying us farther
and farther toward the eternal central fires."

I am frank to admit that for myself I was much more
concerned with our own immediate future than with any
problematic loss which the world might be about to suffer.
The world was at least ignorant of its bereavement,
while to me it was a real and terrible actuality.

"What can we do?" I asked, hiding my perturbation beneath
the mask of a low and level voice.

"We may stop here, and die of asphyxiation when our atmosphere
tanks are empty," replied Perry, "or we may continue
on with the slight hope that we may later sufficiently
deflect the prospector from the vertical to carry us along
the arc of a great circle which must eventually return us
to the surface. If we succeed in so doing before we reach
the higher internal temperature we may even yet survive.
There would seem to me to be about one chance in several
million that we shall succeed--otherwise we shall die
more quickly but no more surely than as though we sat
supinely waiting for the torture of a slow and horrible death."

I glanced at the thermometer. It registered 110 degrees.
While we were talking the mighty iron mole had bored its way
over a mile into the rock of the earth's crust.

"Let us continue on, then," I replied. "It should soon
be over at this rate. You never intimated that the speed
of this thing would be so high, Perry. Didn't you know it?"

"No," he answered. "I could not figure the speed exactly,
for I had no instrument for measuring the mighty power
of my generator. I reasoned, however, that we should make
about five hundred yards an hour."

"And we are making seven miles an hour," I concluded
for him, as I sat with my eyes upon the distance meter.
"How thick is the Earth's crust, Perry?" I asked.

"There are almost as many conjectures as to that as there
are geologists," was his answer. "One estimates it
thirty miles, because the internal heat, increasing at
the rate of about one degree to each sixty to seventy
feet depth, would be sufficient to fuse the most refractory
substances at that distance beneath the surface.
Another finds that the phenomena of precession and
nutation require that the earth, if not entirely solid,
must at least have a shell not less than eight hundred
to a thousand miles in thickness. So there you are.
You may take your choice."

"And if it should prove solid?" I asked.

"It will be all the same to us in the end, David,"
replied Perry. "At the best our fuel will suffice to carry
us but three or four days, while our atmosphere cannot
last to exceed three. Neither, then, is sufficient to bear
us in the safety through eight thousand miles of rock to
the antipodes."

"If the crust is of sufficient thickness we shall come
to a final stop between six and seven hundred miles
beneath the earth's surface; but during the last hundred
and fifty miles of our journey we shall be corpses.
Am I correct?" I asked.

"Quite correct, David. Are you frightened?"

"I do not know. It all has come so suddenly that I scarce
believe that either of us realizes the real terrors of
our position. I feel that I should be reduced to panic;
but yet I am not. I imagine that the shock has been
so great as to partially stun our sensibilities."

Again I turned to the thermometer. The mercury was
rising with less rapidity. It was now but 140 degrees,
although we had penetrated to a depth of nearly four miles.
I told Perry, and he smiled.

"We have shattered one theory at least," was his
only comment, and then he returned to his self-assumed
occupation of fluently cursing the steering wheel.
I once heard a pirate swear, but his best efforts would
have seemed like those of a tyro alongside of Perry's
masterful and scientific imprecations.

Once more I tried my hand at the wheel, but I might
as well have essayed to swing the earth itself. At my
suggestion Perry stopped the generator, and as we came
to rest I again threw all my strength into a supreme effort
to move the thing even a hair's breadth--but the results
were as barren as when we had been traveling at top speed.

I shook my head sadly, and motioned to the starting lever.
Perry pulled it toward him, and once again we were plunging
downward toward eternity at the rate of seven miles an hour.
I sat with my eyes glued to the thermometer and the
distance meter. The mercury was rising very slowly now,
though even at 145 degrees it was almost unbearable within
the narrow confines of our metal prison.

About noon, or twelve hours after our start upon this
unfortunate journey, we had bored to a depth of eighty-four
miles, at which point the mercury registered 153 degrees F.

Perry was becoming more hopeful, although upon what meager
food he sustained his optimism I could not conjecture.
From cursing he had turned to singing--I felt that the
strain had at last affected his mind. For several hours
we had not spoken except as he asked me for the readings
of the instruments from time to time, and I announced them.
My thoughts were filled with vain regrets. I recalled
numerous acts of my past life which I should have been glad
to have had a few more years to live down. There was the
affair in the Latin Commons at Andover when Calhoun and I
had put gunpowder in the stove--and nearly killed one of
the masters. And then--but what was the use, I was about
to die and atone for all these things and several more.
Already the heat was sufficient to give me a foretaste
of the hereafter. A few more degrees and I felt that I
should lose consciousness.

"What are the readings now, David?" Perry's voice broke
in upon my somber reflections.

"Ninety miles and 153 degrees," I replied.

"Gad, but we've knocked that thirty-mile-crust theory
into a cocked hat!" he cried gleefully.

"Precious lot of good it will do us," I growled back.

"But my boy," he continued, "doesn't that temperature reading
mean anything to you? Why it hasn't gone up in six miles.
Think of it, son!"

"Yes, I'm thinking of it," I answered; "but what difference
will it make when our air supply is exhausted whether
the temperature is 153 degrees or 153,000? We'll be just
as dead, and no one will know the difference, anyhow."
But I must admit that for some unaccountable reason
the stationary temperature did renew my waning hope.
What I hoped for I could not have explained, nor did
I try. The very fact, as Perry took pains to explain,
of the blasting of several very exact and learned
scientific hypotheses made it apparent that we could not
know what lay before us within the bowels of the earth,
and so we might continue to hope for the best, at least
until we were dead--when hope would no longer be essential
to our happiness. It was very good, and logical reasoning,
and so I embraced it.

At one hundred miles the temperature had DROPPED TO 152 1/2
DEGREES! When I announced it Perry reached over and hugged me.

From then on until noon of the second day, it continued
to drop until it became as uncomfortably cold as it had
been unbearably hot before. At the depth of two hundred
and forty miles our nostrils were assailed by almost
overpowering ammonia fumes, and the temperature had dropped
to TEN BELOW ZERO! We suffered nearly two hours of this
intense and bitter cold, until at about two hundred
and forty-five miles from the surface of the earth we
entered a stratum of solid ice, when the mercury quickly
rose to 32 degrees. During the next three hours we
passed through ten miles of ice, eventually emerging
into another series of ammonia-impregnated strata,
where the mercury again fell to ten degrees below zero.

Slowly it rose once more until we were convinced that at
last we were nearing the molten interior of the earth.
At four hundred miles the temperature had reached 153 degrees.
Feverishly I watched the thermometer. Slowly it rose.
Perry had ceased singing and was at last praying.

Our hopes had received such a deathblow that the gradually
increasing heat seemed to our distorted imaginations
much greater than it really was. For another hour I
saw that pitiless column of mercury rise and rise until
at four hundred and ten miles it stood at 153 degrees.
Now it was that we began to hang upon those readings
in almost breathless anxiety.

One hundred and fifty-three degrees had been the maximum
temperature above the ice stratum. Would it stop at this
point again, or would it continue its merciless climb? We
knew that there was no hope, and yet with the persistence
of life itself we continued to hope against practical certainty.

Already the air tanks were at low ebb--there was barely
enough of the precious gases to sustain us for another
twelve hours. But would we be alive to know or care?
It seemed incredible.

At four hundred and twenty miles I took another reading.

"Perry!" I shouted. "Perry, man! She's going down! She's
going down! She's 152 degrees again."

"Gad!" he cried. "What can it mean? Can the earth
be cold at the center?"

"I do not know, Perry," I answered; "but thank God,
if I am to die it shall not be by fire--that is all that I
have feared. I can face the thought of any death but that."

Down, down went the mercury until it stood as low as it
had seven miles from the surface of the earth, and then
of a sudden the realization broke upon us that death was
very near. Perry was the first to discover it. I saw him
fussing with the valves that regulate the air supply.
And at the same time I experienced difficulty in breathing.
My head felt dizzy--my limbs heavy.

I saw Perry crumple in his seat. He gave himself a shake
and sat erect again. Then he turned toward me.

"Good-bye, David," he said. "I guess this is the end,"
and then he smiled and closed his eyes.

"Good-bye, Perry, and good luck to you," I answered,
smiling back at him. But I fought off that awful lethargy.
I was very young--I did not want to die.

For an hour I battled against the cruelly enveloping
death that surrounded me upon all sides. At first I
found that by climbing high into the framework above me
I could find more of the precious life-giving elements,
and for a while these sustained me. It must have been
an hour after Perry had succumbed that I at last came
to the realization that I could no longer carry on this
unequal struggle against the inevitable.

With my last flickering ray of consciousness I turned
mechanically toward the distance meter. It stood at exactly
five hundred miles from the earth's surface--and then
of a sudden the huge thing that bore us came to a stop.
The rattle of hurtling rock through the hollow jacket ceased.
The wild racing of the giant drill betokened that it
was running loose in AIR--and then another truth flashed
upon me. The point of the prospector was ABOVE us.
Slowly it dawned on me that since passing through the ice
strata it had been above. We had turned in the ice
and sped upward toward the earth's crust. Thank God! We
were safe!

I put my nose to the intake pipe through which samples were
to have been taken during the passage of the prospector
through the earth, and my fondest hopes were realized--a
flood of fresh air was pouring into the iron cabin.
The reaction left me in a state of collapse, and I
lost consciousness.

 

 

II

A STRANGE WORLD

 

I WAS UNCONSCIOUS LITTLE MORE THAN AN INSTANT,
for as I lunged forward from the crossbeam to which I
had been clinging, and fell with a crash to the floor
of the cabin, the shock brought me to myself.

My first concern was with Perry. I was horrified at the thought
that upon the very threshold of salvation he might be dead.
Tearing open his shirt I placed my ear to his breast.
I could have cried with relief--his heart was beating
quite regularly.

At the water tank I wetted my handkerchief, slapping it
smartly across his forehead and face several times.
In a moment I was rewarded by the raising of his lids.
For a time he lay wide-eyed and quite uncomprehending.
Then his scattered wits slowly foregathered, and he sat
up sniffing the air with an expression of wonderment upon
his face.

"Why, David," he cried at last, "it's air, as sure as I live.
Why--why what does it mean? Where in the world are we?
What has happened?"

"It means that we're back at the surface all right, Perry," I
cried;
"but where, I don't know. I haven't opened her up yet.
Been too busy reviving you. Lord, man, but you had a close
squeak!"

"You say we're back at the surface, David? How can
that be? How long have I been unconscious?"

"Not long. We turned in the ice stratum.
Don't you recall the sudden whirling of our seats?
After that the drill was above you instead of below.
We didn't notice it at the time; but I recall it now."

"You mean to say that we turned back in the ice stratum,
David? That is not possible. The prospector cannot turn
unless its nose is deflected from the outside--by some
external force or resistance--the steering wheel within
would have moved in response. The steering wheel has
not budged, David, since we started. You know that."

I did know it; but here we were with our drill racing in
pure air, and copious volumes of it pouring into the cabin.

"We couldn't have turned in the ice stratum, Perry, I know
as well as you," I replied; "but the fact remains
that we did, for here we are this minute at the surface
of the earth again, and I am going out to see just where."

"Better wait till morning, David--it must be midnight now."

I glanced at the chronometer.

"Half after twelve. We have been out seventy-two hours,
so it must be midnight. Nevertheless I am going to have
a look at the blessed sky that I had given up all hope
of ever seeing again," and so saying I lifted the bars
from the inner door, and swung it open. There was quite
a quantity of loose material in the jacket, and this I
had to remove with a shovel to get at the opposite door
in the outer shell.

In a short time I had removed enough of the earth and rock
to the floor of the cabin to expose the door beyond.
Perry was directly behind me as I threw it open.
The upper half was above the surface of the ground.
With an expression of surprise I turned and looked at
Perry--it was broad daylight without!

"Something seems to have gone wrong either with our
calculations or the chronometer," I said. Perry shook
his head--there was a strange expression in his eyes.

"Let's have a look beyond that door, David," he cried.

Together we stepped out to stand in silent contemplation
of a landscape at once weird and beautiful. Before us
a low and level shore stretched down to a silent sea.
As far as the eye could reach the surface of the water
was dotted with countless tiny isles--some of towering,
barren, granitic rock--others resplendent in gorgeous
trappings of tropical vegetation, myriad starred with
the magnificent splendor of vivid blooms.

Behind us rose a dark and forbidding wood of giant
arborescent ferns intermingled with the commoner types
of a primeval tropical forest. Huge creepers depended
in great loops from tree to tree, dense under-brush
overgrew a tangled mass of fallen trunks and branches.
Upon the outer verge we could see the same splendid
coloring of countless blossoms that glorified the islands,
but within the dense shadows all seemed dark and gloomy
as the grave.

And upon all the noonday sun poured its torrid rays
out of a cloudless sky.

"Where on earth can we be?" I asked, turning to Perry.

For some moments the old man did not reply. He stood
with bowed head, buried in deep thought. But at last
he spoke.

"David," he said, "I am not so sure that we are ON earth."

"What do you mean Perry?" I cried. "Do you think that we
are dead, and this is heaven?" He smiled, and turning,
pointing to the nose of the prospector protruding from
the ground at our backs.

"But for that, David, I might believe that we were indeed
come to the country beyond the Styx. The prospector
renders that theory untenable--it, certainly, could never
have gone to heaven. However I am willing to concede
that we actually may be in another world from that
which we have always known. If we are not ON earth,
there is every reason to believe that we may be IN it."

"We may have quartered through the earth's crust and come
out upon some tropical island of the West Indies,"
I suggested. Again Perry shook his head.

"Let us wait and see, David," he replied, "and in the
meantime suppose we do a bit of exploring up and down
the coast--we may find a native who can enlighten us."

As we walked along the beach Perry gazed long and
earnestly across the water. Evidently he was wrestling
with a mighty problem.

"David," he said abruptly, "do you perceive anything
unusual about the horizon?"

As I looked I began to appreciate the reason for the
strangeness of the landscape that had haunted me from
the first with an illusive suggestion of the bizarre
and unnatural--THERE WAS NO HORIZON! As far as the eye
could reach out the sea continued and upon its bosom
floated tiny islands, those in the distance reduced
to mere specks; but ever beyond them was the sea,
until the impression became quite real that one was
LOOKING UP at the most distant point that the eyes
could fathom--the distance was lost in the distance.
That was all--there was no clear-cut horizontal
line marking the dip of the globe below the line of vision.

"A great light is commencing to break on me," continued Perry,
taking out his watch. "I believe that I have partially
solved the riddle. It is now two o'clock. When we emerged
from the prospector the sun was directly above us.
Where is it now?"

I glanced up to find the great orb still motionless
in the center of the heaven. And such a sun! I had
scarcely noticed it before. Fully thrice the size of
the sun I had known throughout my life, and apparently
so near that the sight of it carried the conviction
that one might almost reach up and touch it.

"My God, Perry, where are we?" I exclaimed. "This thing
is beginning to get on my nerves."

"I think that I may state quite positively, David,"
he commenced, "that we are--" but he got no further.
From behind us in the vicinity of the prospector there
came the most thunderous, awe-inspiring roar that ever
had fallen upon my ears. With one accord we turned
to discover the author of that fearsome noise.

Had I still retained the suspicion that we were on earth the
sight that met my eyes would quite entirely have banished it.
Emerging from the forest was a colossal beast which closely
resembled a bear. It was fully as large as the largest
elephant and with great forepaws armed with huge claws.
Its nose, or snout, depended nearly a foot below its
lower jaw, much after the manner of a rudimentary trunk.
The giant body was covered by a coat of thick, shaggy hair.

Roaring horribly it came toward us at a ponderous,
shuffling trot. I turned to Perry to suggest that it
might be wise to seek other surroundings--the idea had
evidently occurred to Perry previously, for he was already
a hundred paces away, and with each second his prodigious
bounds increased the distance. I had never guessed
what latent speed possibilities the old gentleman possessed.

I saw that he was headed toward a little point of the
forest which ran out toward the sea not far from where we
had been standing, and as the mighty creature, the sight
of which had galvanized him into such remarkable action,
was forging steadily toward me. I set off after Perry,
though at a somewhat more decorous pace. It was evident
that the massive beast pursuing us was not built for speed,
so all that I considered necessary was to gain the trees
sufficiently ahead of it to enable me to climb to the safety
of some great branch before it came up.

Notwithstanding our danger I could not help but laugh at
Perry's frantic capers as he essayed to gain the safety
of the lower branches of the trees he now had reached.
The stems were bare for a distance of some fifteen feet--at
least on those trees which Perry attempted to ascend,
for the suggestion of safety carried by the larger of
the forest giants had evidently attracted him to them.
A dozen times he scrambled up the trunks like a huge cat
only to fall back to the ground once more, and with each
failure he cast a horrified glance over his shoulder at
the oncoming brute, simultaneously emitting terror-stricken
shrieks that awoke the echoes of the grim forest.

At length he spied a dangling creeper about the bigness
of one's wrist, and when I reached the trees he was racing
madly up it, hand over hand. He had almost reached the lowest
branch of the tree from which the creeper depended when
the thing parted beneath his weight and he fell sprawling
at my feet.

The misfortune now was no longer amusing, for the beast
was already too close to us for comfort. Seizing Perry
by the shoulder I dragged him to his feet, and rushing
to a smaller tree--one that he could easily encircle with
his arms and legs--I boosted him as far up as I could,
and then left him to his fate, for a glance over my
shoulder revealed the awful beast almost upon me.

It was the great size of the thing alone that saved me.
Its enormous bulk rendered it too slow upon its feet
to cope with the agility of my young muscles, and so I was
enabled to dodge out of its way and run completely behind
it before its slow wits could direct it in pursuit.

The few seconds of grace that this gave me found me
safely lodged in the branches of a tree a few paces
from that in which Perry had at last found a haven.

Did I say safely lodged? At the time I thought we were
quite safe, and so did Perry. He was praying--raising
his voice in thanksgiving at our deliverance--and had
just completed a sort of paeon of gratitude that the thing
couldn't climb a tree when without warning it reared up
beneath him on its enormous tail and hind feet, and reached
those fearfully armed paws quite to the branch upon
which he crouched.

The accompanying roar was all but drowned in Perry's
scream of fright, and he came near tumbling headlong
into the gaping jaws beneath him, so precipitate was
his impetuous haste to vacate the dangerous limb.
It was with a deep sigh of relief that I saw him gain
a higher branch in safety.

And then the brute did that which froze us both anew
with horror. Grasping the tree's stem with his powerful
paws he dragged down with all the great weight of his
huge bulk and all the irresistible force of those
mighty muscles. Slowly, but surely, the stem began to
bend toward him. Inch by inch he worked his paws upward
as the tree leaned more and more from the perpendicular.
Perry clung chattering in a panic of terror. Higher and
higher into the bending and swaying tree he clambered.
More and more rapidly was the tree top inclining toward
the ground.

I saw now why the great brute was armed with such
enormous paws. The use that he was putting them to was
precisely that for which nature had intended them.
The sloth-like creature was herbivorous, and to feed that mighty
carcass entire trees must be stripped of their foliage.
The reason for its attacking us might easily be accounted
for on the supposition of an ugly disposition such as that
which the fierce and stupid rhinoceros of Africa possesses.
But these were later reflections. At the moment I was too
frantic with apprehension on Perry's behalf to consider aught
other than a means to save him from the death that loomed so
close.

Realizing that I could outdistance the clumsy brute in
the open, I dropped from my leafy sanctuary intent only on
distracting the thing's attention from Perry long enough
to enable the old man to gain the safety of a larger tree.
There were many close by which not even the terrific
strength of that titanic monster could bend.

As I touched the ground I snatched a broken limb from
the tangled mass that matted the jungle-like floor of the
forest and, leaping unnoticed behind the shaggy back,
dealt the brute a terrific blow. My plan worked like magic.
From the previous slowness of the beast I had been led
to look for no such marvelous agility as he now displayed.
Releasing his hold upon the tree he dropped on all fours
and at the same time swung his great, wicked tail with a
force that would have broken every bone in my body had it
struck me; but, fortunately, I had turned to flee at the
very instant that I felt my blow land upon the towering back.

As it started in pursuit of me I made the mistake of running
along the edge of the forest rather than making for the
open beach. In a moment I was knee-deep in rotting vegetation,
and the awful thing behind me was gaining rapidly
as I floundered and fell in my efforts to extricate myself.

A fallen log gave me an instant's advantage, for climbing
upon it I leaped to another a few paces farther on,
and in this way was able to keep clear of the mush that
carpeted the surrounding ground. But the zigzag course
that this necessitated was placing such a heavy handicap
upon me that my pursuer was steadily gaining upon me.

Suddenly from behind I heard a tumult of howls, and sharp,
piercing barks--much the sound that a pack of wolves
raises when in full cry. Involuntarily I glanced
backward to discover the origin of this new and menacing
note with the result that I missed my footing and went
sprawling once more upon my face in the deep muck.

My mammoth enemy was so close by this time that I knew I
must feel the weight of one of his terrible paws before I
could rise, but to my surprise the blow did not fall upon me.
The howling and snapping and barking of the new element
which had been infused into the melee now seemed centered
quite close behind me, and as I raised myself upon my hands
and glanced around I saw what it was that had distracted
the DYRYTH, as I afterward learned the thing is called,
from my trail.

It was surrounded by a pack of some hundred wolf-like
creatures--wild dogs they seemed--that rushed growling
and snapping in upon it from all sides, so that they sank
their white fangs into the slow brute and were away again
before it could reach them with its huge paws or sweeping tail.

But these were not all that my startled eyes perceived.
Chattering and gibbering through the lower branches of
the trees came a company of manlike creatures evidently
urging on the dog pack. They were to all appearances
strikingly similar in aspect to the Negro of Africa.
Their skins were very black, and their features much
like those of the more pronounced Negroid type except
that the head receded more rapidly above the eyes,
leaving little or no forehead. Their arms were rather
longer and their legs shorter in proportion to the torso
than in man, and later I noticed that their great toes
protruded at right angles from their feet--because of their
arboreal habits, I presume. Behind them trailed long,
slender tails which they used in climbing quite as much as
they did either their hands or feet.

I had stumbled to my feet the moment that I discovered
that the wolf-dogs were holding the dyryth at bay.
At sight of me several of the savage creatures left off
worrying the great brute to come slinking with bared fangs
toward me, and as I turned to run toward the trees again
to seek safety among the lower branches, I saw a number
of the man-apes leaping and chattering in the foliage
of the nearest tree.

Between them and the beasts behind me there was little choice,
but at least there was a doubt as to the reception
these grotesque parodies on humanity would accord me,
while there was none as to the fate which awaited me
beneath the grinning fangs of my fierce pursuers.

And so I raced on toward the trees intending to pass
beneath that which held the man-things and take refuge
in another farther on; but the wolf-dogs were very close
behind me--so close that I had despaired of escaping them,
when one of the creatures in the tree above swung
down headforemost, his tail looped about a great limb,
and grasping me beneath my armpits swung me in safety up
among his fellows.

There they fell to examining me with the utmost excitement
and curiosity. They picked at my clothing, my hair,
and my flesh. They turned me about to see if I had a tail,
and when they discovered that I was not so equipped they
fell into roars of laughter. Their teeth were very large
and white and even, except for the upper canines which were
a trifle longer than the others--protruding just a bit
when the mouth was closed.

When they had examined me for a few moments one of them
discovered that my clothing was not a part of me, with the
result that garment by garment they tore it from me amidst
peals of the wildest laughter. Apelike, they essayed
to don the apparel themselves, but their ingenuity
was not sufficient to the task and so they gave it up.

In the meantime I had been straining my eyes to catch
a glimpse of Perry, but nowhere about could I see him,
although the clump of trees in which he had first taken
refuge was in full view. I was much exercised by fear
that something had befallen him, and though I called his
name aloud several times there was no response.

Tired at last of playing with my clothing the creatures
threw it to the ground, and catching me, one on either side,
by an arm, started off at a most terrifying pace through
the tree tops. Never have I experienced such a journey
before or since--even now I oftentimes awake from a deep
sleep haunted by the horrid remembrance of that awful experience.

From tree to tree the agile creatures sprang like flying
squirrels, while the cold sweat stood upon my brow as I
glimpsed the depths beneath, into which a single misstep
on the part of either of my bearers would hurl me.
As they bore me along, my mind was occupied with a thousand
bewildering thoughts. What had become of Perry? Would
I ever see him again? What were the intentions of these
half-human things into whose hands I had fallen? Were they
inhabitants of the same world into which I had been born?
No! It could not be. But yet where else? I had not left
that earth--of that I was sure. Still neither could I
reconcile the things which I had seen to a belief that
I was still in the world of my birth. With a sigh I gave it up.

 

 

III

A CHANGE OF MASTERS

 

WE MUST HAVE TRAVELED SEVERAL MILES THROUGH the dark
and dismal wood when we came suddenly upon a dense
village built high among the branches of the trees.
As we approached it my escort broke into wild shouting
which was immediately answered from within, and a moment
later a swarm of creatures of the same strange race
as those who had captured me poured out to meet us.
Again I was the center of a wildly chattering horde.
I was pulled this way and that. Pinched, pounded,
and thumped until I was black and blue, yet I do not
think that their treatment was dictated by either cruelty
or malice--I was a curiosity, a freak, a new plaything,
and their childish minds required the added evidence of all
their senses to back up the testimony of their eyes.

Presently they dragged me within the village,
which consisted of several hundred rude shelters
of boughs and leaves supported upon the branches of the trees.

Between the huts, which sometimes formed crooked streets,
were dead branches and the trunks of small trees which connected
the huts upon one tree to those within adjoining trees;
the whole network of huts and pathways forming an almost
solid flooring a good fifty feet above the ground.

I wondered why these agile creatures required connecting
bridges between the trees, but later when I saw the motley
aggregation of half-savage beasts which they kept within
their village I realized the necessity for the pathways.
There were a number of the same vicious wolf-dogs
which we had left worrying the dyryth, and many goatlike
animals whose distended udders explained the reasons
for their presence.

My guard halted before one of the huts into which I was pushed;
then two of the creatures squatted down before the entrance--to
prevent my escape, doubtless. Though where I should have
escaped to I certainly had not the remotest conception.
I had no more than entered the dark shadows of the interior
than there fell upon my ears the tones of a familiar voice,
in prayer.

"Perry!" I cried. "Dear old Perry! Thank the Lord you
are safe."

"David! Can it be possible that you escaped?" And the old
man stumbled toward me and threw his arms about me.

He had seen me fall before the dyryth, and then he had been
seized by a number of the ape-creatures and borne through
the tree tops to their village. His captors had been
as inquisitive as to his strange clothing as had mine,
with the same result. As we looked at each other we
could not help but laugh.

"With a tail, David," remarked Perry, "you would make
a very handsome ape."

"Maybe we can borrow a couple," I rejoined. "They seem
to be quite the thing this season. I wonder what the
creatures intend doing with us, Perry. They don't seem
really savage. What do you suppose they can be? You
were about to tell me where we are when that great hairy
frigate bore down upon us--have you really any idea at all?"

"Yes, David," he replied, "I know precisely where we are.
We have made a magnificent discovery, my boy! We have
proved that the earth is hollow. We have passed entirely
through its crust to the inner world."

"Perry, you are mad!"

"Not at all, David. For two hundred and fifty miles our
prospector bore us through the crust beneath our outer world.
At that point it reached the center of gravity of the
five-hundred-mile-thick crust. Up to that point we had been
descending--direction is, of course, merely relative.
Then at the moment that our seats revolved--the thing
that made you believe that we had turned about and were
speeding upward--we passed the center of gravity and,
though we did not alter the direction of our progress,
yet we were in reality moving upward--toward the surface
of the inner world. Does not the strange fauna and flora
which we have seen convince you that you are not in the
world of your birth? And the horizon--could it present
the strange aspects which we both noted unless we were
indeed standing upon the inside surface of a sphere?"

"But the sun, Perry!" I urged. "How in the world can
the sun shine through five hundred miles of solid crust?"

"It is not the sun of the outer world that we see here.
It is another sun--an entirely different sun--that
casts its eternal noonday effulgence upon the face
of the inner world. Look at it now, David--if you can
see it from the doorway of this hut--and you will see
that it is still in the exact center of the heavens.
We have been here for many hours--yet it is still noon.

"And withal it is very simple, David. The earth was once
a nebulous mass. It cooled, and as it cooled it shrank.
At length a thin crust of solid matter formed upon
its outer surface--a sort of shell; but within it was
partially molten matter and highly expanded gases.
As it continued to cool, what happened? Centrifugal
force hurled the particles of the nebulous center toward
the crust as rapidly as they approached a solid state.
You have seen the same principle practically applied
in the modern cream separator. Presently there was only
a small super-heated core of gaseous matter remaining
within a huge vacant interior left by the contraction
of the cooling gases. The equal attraction of the solid
crust from all directions maintained this luminous core
in the exact center of the hollow globe. What remains
of it is the sun you saw today--a relatively tiny thing
at the exact center of the earth. Equally to every part
of this inner world it diffuses its perpetual noonday light
and torrid heat.

"This inner world must have cooled sufficiently to
support animal life long ages after life appeared upon
the outer crust, but that the same agencies were at work
here is evident from the similar forms of both animal
and vegetable creation which we have already seen.
Take the great beast which attacked us, for example.
Unquestionably a counterpart of the Megatherium of the
post-Pliocene period of the outer crust, whose fossilized
skeleton has been found in South America."

"But the grotesque inhabitants of this forest?" I urged.
"Surely they have no counterpart in the earth's history."

"Who can tell?" he rejoined. "They may constitute the
link between ape and man, all traces of which have been
swallowed by the countless convulsions which have racked
the outer crust, or they may be merely the result of evolution
along slightly different lines--either is quite possible."

Further speculation was interrupted by the appearance
of several of our captors before the entrance of the hut.
Two of them entered and dragged us forth. The perilous
pathways and the surrounding trees were filled with
the black ape-men, their females, and their young.
There was not an ornament, a weapon, or a garment among
the lot.

"Quite low in the scale of creation," commented Perry.

"Quite high enough to play the deuce with us, though,"
I replied. "Now what do you suppose they intend doing
with us?"

We were not long in learning. As on the occasion of our
trip to the village we were seized by a couple of the
powerful creatures and whirled away through the tree tops,
while about us and in our wake raced a chattering,
jabbering, grinning horde of sleek, black ape-things.

Twice my bearers missed their footing, and my heart ceased
beating as we plunged toward instant death among the tangled
deadwood beneath. But on both occasions those lithe,
powerful tails reached out and found sustaining branches,
nor did either of the creatures loosen their grasp upon me.
In fact, it seemed that the incidents were of no greater
moment to them than would be the stubbing of one's toe
at a street crossing in the outer world--they but laughed
uproariously and sped on with me.

For some time they continued through the forest--how long
I could not guess for I was learning, what was later
borne very forcefully to my mind, that time ceases to be
a factor the moment means for measuring it cease to exist.
Our watches were gone, and we were living beneath a
stationary sun. Already I was puzzled to compute the period
of time which had elapsed since we broke through the crust
of the inner world. It might be hours, or it might be
days--who in the world could tell where it was always
noon! By the sun, no time had elapsed--but my judgment
told me that we must have been several hours in this
strange world.

Presently the forest terminated, and we came out upon
a level plain. A short distance before us rose a few low,
rocky hills. Toward these our captors urged us, and after
a short time led us through a narrow pass into a tiny,
circular valley. Here they got down to work, and we
were soon convinced that if we were not to die to make
a Roman holiday, we were to die for some other purpose.
The attitude of our captors altered immediately as they
entered the natural arena within the rocky hills.
Their laughter ceased. Grim ferocity marked their bestial
faces--bared fangs menaced us.

We were placed in the center of the amphitheater--the
thousand creatures forming a great ring about us.
Then a wolf-dog was brought--hyaenadon Perry called it--and
turned loose with us inside the circle. The thing's
body was as large as that of a full-grown mastiff,
its legs were short and powerful, and its jaws broad
and strong. Dark, shaggy hair covered its back and sides,
while its breast and belly were quite white. As it slunk
toward us it presented a most formidable aspect with its
upcurled lips baring its mighty fangs.

Perry was on his knees, praying. I stooped and picked
up a small stone. At my movement the beast veered off
a bit and commenced circling us. Evidently it had been
a target for stones before. The ape-things were dancing
up and down urging the brute on with savage cries,
until at last, seeing that I did not throw, he charged us.

At Andover, and later at Yale, I had pitched on winning
ball teams. My speed and control must both have been
above the ordinary, for I made such a record during
my senior year at college that overtures were made
to me in behalf of one of the great major-league teams;
but in the tightest pitch that ever had confronted me
in the past I had never been in such need for control
as now.

As I wound up for the delivery, I held my nerves and muscles
under absolute command, though the grinning jaws were
hurtling toward me at terrific speed. And then I let go,
with every ounce of my weight and muscle and science in back
of that throw. The stone caught the hyaenodon full upon
the end of the nose, and sent him bowling over upon his back.

At the same instant a chorus of shrieks and howls arose
from the circle of spectators, so that for a moment
I thought that the upsetting of their champion was
the cause; but in this I soon saw that I was mistaken.
As I looked, the ape-things broke in all directions
toward the surrounding hills, and then I distinguished
the real cause of their perturbation. Behind them,
streaming through the pass which leads into the valley,
came a swarm of hairy men--gorilla-like creatures armed
with spears and hatchets, and bearing long, oval shields.
Like demons they set upon the ape-things, and before
them the hyaenodon, which had now regained its senses
and its feet, fled howling with fright. Past us swept
the pursued and the pursuers, nor did the hairy ones accord
us more than a passing glance until the arena had been
emptied of its former occupants. Then they returned to us,
and one who seemed to have authority among them directed
that we be brought with them.

When we had passed out of the amphitheater onto the
great plain we saw a caravan of men and women--human
beings like ourselves--and for the first time hope
and relief filled my heart, until I could have cried
out in the exuberance of my happiness. It is true
that they were a half-naked, wild-appearing aggregation;
but they at least were fashioned along the same lines
as ourselves--there was nothing grotesque or horrible about
them as about the other creatures in this strange,
weird world.

But as we came closer, our hearts sank once more, for we
discovered that the poor wretches were chained neck to neck
in a long line, and that the gorilla-men were their guards.
With little ceremony Perry and I were chained at the end
of the line, and without further ado the interrupted
march was resumed.

Up to this time the excitement had kept us both up;
but now the tiresome monotony of the long march
across the sun-baked plain brought on all the agonies
consequent to a long-denied sleep. On and on we stumbled
beneath that hateful noonday sun. If we fell we were
prodded with a sharp point. Our companions in chains
did not stumble. They strode along proudly erect.
Occasionally they would exchange words with one another
in a monosyllabic language. They were a noble-appearing
race with well-formed heads and perfect physiques.
The men were heavily bearded, tall and muscular; the women,
smaller and more gracefully molded, with great masses
of raven hair caught into loose knots upon their heads.
The features of both sexes were well proportioned--there
was not a face among them that would have been called
even plain if judged by earthly standards. They wore
no ornaments; but this I later learned was due to the
fact that their captors had stripped them of everything
of value. As garmenture the women possessed a single
robe of some light-colored, spotted hide, rather similar
in appearance to a leopard's skin. This they wore either
supported entirely about the waist by a leathern thong,
so that it hung partially below the knee on one side,
or possibly looped gracefully across one shoulder.
Their feet were shod with skin sandals. The men wore
loin cloths of the hide of some shaggy beast, long ends
of which depended before and behind nearly to the ground.
In some instances these ends were finished with the
strong talons of the beast from which the hides had
been taken.

Our guards, whom I already have described as gorilla-like men,
were rather lighter in build than a gorilla, but even so
they were indeed mighty creatures. Their arms and legs
were proportioned more in conformity with human standards,
but their entire bodies were covered with shaggy, brown hair,
and their faces were quite as brutal as those of the few stuffed
specimens of the gorilla which I had seen in the museums at home.

Their only redeeming feature lay in the development
of the head above and back of the ears. In this
respect they were not one whit less human than we.
They were clothed in a sort of tunic of light cloth which
reached to the knees. Beneath this they wore only a loin
cloth of the same material, while their feet were shod
with thick hide of some mammoth creature of this inner world.

Their arms and necks were encircled by many ornaments of
metal--silver predominating--and on their tunics were sewn
the heads of tiny reptiles in odd and rather artistic designs.
They talked among themselves as they marched along on
either side of us, but in a language which I perceived
differed from that employed by our fellow prisoners.
When they addressed the latter they used what appeared
to be a third language, and which I later learned is
a mongrel tongue rather analogous to the Pidgin-English
of the Chinese coolie.

How far we marched I have no conception, nor has Perry.
Both of us were asleep much of the time for hours before
a halt was called--then we dropped in our tracks.
I say "for hours," but how may one measure time where time
does not exist! When our march commenced the sun stood
at zenith. When we halted our shadows still pointed
toward nadir. Whether an instant or an eternity of
earthly time elapsed who may say. That march may have
occupied nine years and eleven months of the ten years
that I spent in the inner world, or it may have been
accomplished in the fraction of a second--I cannot tell.
But this I do know that since you have told me that ten
years have elapsed since I departed from this earth
I have lost all respect for time--I am commencing to
doubt that such a thing exists other than in the weak,
finite mind of man.

 

 

IV

DIAN THE BEAUTIFUL

 

WHEN OUR GUARDS AROUSED US FROM SLEEP WE were much refreshed.
They gave us food. Strips of dried meat it was, but it
put new life and strength into us, so that now we too
marched with high-held heads, and took noble strides.
At least I did, for I was young and proud; but poor Perry
hated walking. On earth I had often seen him call a cab
to travel a square--he was paying for it now, and his old
legs wobbled so that I put my arm about him and half carried
him through the balance of those frightful marches.

The country began to change at last, and we wound up
out of the level plain through mighty mountains of
virgin granite. The tropical verdure of the lowlands was
replaced by hardier vegetation, but even here the effects
of constant heat and light were apparent in the immensity
of the trees and the profusion of foliage and blooms.
Crystal streams roared through their rocky channels,
fed by the perpetual snows which we could see far above us.
Above the snowcapped heights hung masses of heavy clouds.
It was these, Perry explained, which evidently served
the double purpose of replenishing the melting snows and
protecting them from the direct rays of the sun.

By this time we had picked up a smattering of the bastard
language in which our guards addressed us, as well
as making good headway in the rather charming tongue
of our co-captives. Directly ahead of me in the chain
gang was a young woman. Three feet of chain linked us
together in a forced companionship which I, at least,
soon rejoiced in. For I found her a willing teacher,
and from her I learned the language of her tribe,
and much of the life and customs of the inner world--at
least that part of it with which she was familiar.

She told me that she was called Dian the Beautiful,
and that she belonged to the tribe of Amoz, which dwells
in the cliffs above the Darel Az, or shallow sea.

"How came you here?" I asked her.

"I was running away from Jubal the Ugly One," she answered,
as though that was explanation quite sufficient.

"Who is Jubal the Ugly One?" I asked. "And why did you
run away from him?"

She looked at me in surprise.

"Why DOES a woman run away from a man?" she answered
my question with another.

"They do not, where I come from," I replied.
"Sometimes they run after them."

But she could not understand. Nor could I get her to grasp
the fact that I was of another world. She was quite as
positive that creation was originated solely to produce her
own kind and the world she lived in as are many of the outer
world.

"But Jubal," I insisted. "Tell me about him, and why you
ran away to be chained by the neck and scourged across
the face of a world."

"Jubal the Ugly One placed his trophy before my father's house.
It was the head of a mighty tandor. It remained there
and no greater trophy was placed beside it. So I knew
that Jubal the Ugly One would come and take me as his mate.
None other so powerful wished me, or they would have
slain a mightier beast and thus have won me from Jubal.
My father is not a mighty hunter. Once he was,
but a sadok tossed him, and never again had he the full
use of his right arm. My brother, Dacor the Strong One,
had gone to the land of Sari to steal a mate for himself.
Thus there was none, father, brother, or lover, to save
me from Jubal the Ugly One, and I ran away and hid among
the hills that skirt the land of Amoz. And there these
Sagoths found me and made me captive."

"What will they do with you?" I asked. "Where are they
taking us?"

Again she looked her incredulity.

"I can almost believe that you are of another world,"
she said, "for otherwise such ignorance were inexplicable.
Do you really mean that you do not know that the Sagoths
are the creatures of the Mahars--the mighty Mahars who
think they own Pellucidar and all that walks or grows
upon its surface, or creeps or burrows beneath, or swims
within its lakes and oceans, or flies through its air?
Next you will be telling me that you never before heard
of the Mahars!"

I was loath to do it, and further incur her scorn;
but there was no alternative if I were to absorb knowledge,
so I made a clean breast of my pitiful ignorance as to the
mighty Mahars. She was shocked. But she did her very best
to enlighten me, though much that she said was as Greek
would have been to her. She described the Mahars largely
by comparisons. In this way they were like unto thipdars,
in that to the hairless lidi.

About all I gleaned of them was that they were
quite hideous, had wings, and webbed feet; lived in
cities built beneath the ground; could swim under
water for great distances, and were very, very wise.
The Sagoths were their weapons of offense and defense,
and the races like herself were their hands and feet--they
were the slaves and servants who did all the manual labor.
The Mahars were the heads--the brains--of the inner world.
I longed to see this wondrous race of supermen.

Perry learned the language with me. When we halted,
as we occasionally did, though sometimes the halts seemed
ages apart, he would join in the conversation, as would
Ghak the Hairy One, he who was chained just ahead of Dian
the Beautiful. Ahead of Ghak was Hooja the Sly One.
He too entered the conversation occasionally. Most of
his remarks were directed toward Dian the Beautiful.
It didn't take half an eye to see that he had developed
a bad case; but the girl appeared totally oblivious
to his thinly veiled advances. Did I say thinly veiled?
There is a race of men in New Zealand, or Australia,
I have forgotten which, who indicate their preference
for the lady of their affections by banging her over
the head with a bludgeon. By comparison with this method
Hooja's lovemaking might be called thinly veiled.
At first it caused me to blush violently although I
have seen several Old Years out at Rectors, and in other
less fashionable places off Broadway, and in Vienna,
and Hamburg.

But the girl! She was magnificent. It was easy to see
that she considered herself as entirely above and apart from
her present surroundings and company. She talked with me,
and with Perry, and with the taciturn Ghak because we
were respectful; but she couldn't even see Hooja the
Sly One, much less hear him, and that made him furious.
He tried to get one of the Sagoths to move the girl up
ahead of him in the slave gang, but the fellow only poked
him with his spear and told him that he had selected the
girl for his own property--that he would buy her from the
Mahars as soon as they reached Phutra. Phutra, it seemed,
was the city of our destination.

After passing over the first chain of mountains we skirted
a salt sea, upon whose bosom swam countless horrid things.
Seal-like creatures there were with long necks stretching
ten and more feet above their enormous bodies and whose
snake heads were split with gaping mouths bristling
with countless fangs. There were huge tortoises too,
paddling about among these other reptiles, which Perry
said were Plesiosaurs of the Lias. I didn't question his
veracity--they might have been most anything.

Dian told me they were tandorazes, or tandors of the sea,
and that the other, and more fearsome reptiles, which
occasionally
rose from the deep to do battle with them, were azdyryths,
or sea-dyryths--Perry called them Ichthyosaurs.
They resembled a whale with the head of an alligator.

I had forgotten what little geology I had studied
at school--about all that remained was an impression
of horror that the illustrations of restored prehistoric
monsters had made upon me, and a well-defined belief
that any man with a pig's shank and a vivid imagination
could "restore" most any sort of paleolithic monster he
saw fit, and take rank as a first class paleontologist.
But when I saw these sleek, shiny carcasses shimmering in
the sunlight as they emerged from the ocean, shaking their
giant heads; when I saw the waters roll from their sinuous
bodies in miniature waterfalls as they glided hither
and thither, now upon the surface, now half submerged;
as I saw them meet, open-mouthed, hissing and snorting,
in their titanic and interminable warring I realized
how futile is man's poor, weak imagination by comparison
with Nature's incredible genius.

And Perry! He was absolutely flabbergasted. He said
so himself.

"David," he remarked, after we had marched for a long time
beside that awful sea. "David, I used to teach geology,
and I thought that I believed what I taught; but now I
see that I did not believe it--that it is impossible
for man to believe such things as these unless he sees
them with his own eyes. We take things for granted,
perhaps, because we are told them over and over again,
and have no way of disproving them--like religions,
for example; but we don't believe them, we only think
we do. If you ever get back to the outer world you
will find that the geologists and paleontologists will
be the first to set you down a liar, for they know
that no such creatures as they restore ever existed.
It is all right to IMAGINE them as existing in an equally
imaginary epoch--but now? poof!"

At the next halt Hooja the Sly One managed to find enough
slack chain to permit him to worm himself back quite close
to Dian. We were all standing, and as he edged near the
girl she turned her back upon him in such a truly earthly
feminine manner that I could scarce repress a smile; but it
was a short-lived smile for on the instant the Sly One's
hand fell upon the girl's bare arm, jerking her roughly
toward him.

I was not then familiar with the customs or social ethics
which prevailed within Pellucidar; but even so I did
not need the appealing look which the girl shot to me
from her magnificent eyes to influence my subsequent act.
What the Sly One's intention was I paused not to inquire;
but instead, before he could lay hold of her with his
other hand, I placed a right to the point of his jaw that
felled him in his tracks.

A roar of approval went up from those of the other prisoners
and the Sagoths who had witnessed the brief drama; not, as I
later learned, because I had championed the girl, but for
the neat and, to them, astounding method by which I had bested
Hooja.

And the girl? At first she looked at me with wide, wondering
eyes,
and then she dropped her head, her face half averted,
and a delicate flush suffused her cheek. For a moment
she stood thus in silence, and then her head went high,
and she turned her back upon me as she had upon Hooja.
Some of the prisoners laughed, and I saw the face of Ghak
the Hairy One go very black as he looked at me searchingly.
And what I could see of Dian's cheek went suddenly from red
to white.

Immediately after we resumed the march, and though I realized
that in some way I had offended Dian the Beautiful I could
not prevail upon her to talk with me that I might learn
wherein I had erred--in fact I might quite as well have
been addressing a sphinx for all the attention I got.
At last my own foolish pride stepped in and prevented
my making any further attempts, and thus a companionship
that without my realizing it had come to mean a great deal
to me was cut off. Thereafter I confined my conversation
to Perry. Hooja did not renew his advances toward the girl,
nor did he again venture near me.

Again the weary and apparently interminable marching became
a perfect nightmare of horrors to me. The more firmly
fixed became the realization that the girl's friendship
had meant so much to me, the more I came to miss it;
and the more impregnable the barrier of silly pride.
But I was very young and would not ask Ghak for the
explanation which I was sure he could give, and that might
have made everything all right again.

On the march, or during halts, Dian refused consistently
to notice me--when her eyes wandered in my direction
she looked either over my head or directly through me.
At last I became desperate, and determined to swallow
my self-esteem, and again beg her to tell me how I
had offended, and how I might make reparation. I made
up my mind that I should do this at the next halt.
We were approaching another range of mountains at the time,
and when we reached them, instead of winding across
them through some high-flung pass we entered a mighty
natural tunnel--a series of labyrinthine grottoes,
dark as Erebus.

The guards had no torches or light of any description.
In fact we had seen no artificial light or sign of
fire since we had entered Pellucidar. In a land of
perpetual noon there is no need of light above ground,
yet I marveled that they had no means of lighting
their way through these dark, subterranean passages.
So we crept along at a snail's pace, with much stumbling
and falling--the guards keeping up a singsong chant ahead
of us, interspersed with certain high notes which I found
always indicated rough places and turns.

Halts were now more frequent, but I did not wish to speak
to Dian until I could see from the expression of her face
how she was receiving my apologies. At last a faint
glow ahead forewarned us of the end of the tunnel,
for which I for one was devoutly thankful. Then at a sudden
turn we emerged into the full light of the noonday sun.

But with it came a sudden realization of what meant
to me a real catastrophe--Dian was gone, and with her
a half-dozen other prisoners. The guards saw it too,
and the ferocity of their rage was terrible to behold.
Their awesome, bestial faces were contorted in the most
diabolical expressions, as they accused each other of
responsibility for the loss. Finally they fell upon us,
beating us with their spear shafts, and hatchets.
They had already killed two near the head of the line,
and were like to have finished the balance of us when
their leader finally put a stop to the brutal slaughter.
Never in all my life had I witnessed a more horrible
exhibition of bestial rage--I thanked God that Dian had not
been one of those left to endure it.

Of the twelve prisoners who had been chained ahead of me
each alternate one had been freed commencing with Dian.
Hooja was gone. Ghak remained. What could it mean? How
had it been accomplished? The commander of the guards
was investigating. Soon he discovered that the rude
locks which had held the neckbands in place had been
deftly picked.

"Hooja the Sly One," murmured Ghak, who was now next to me
in line. "He has taken the girl that you would not have,"
he continued, glancing at me.

"That I would not have!" I cried. "What do you mean?"

He looked at me closely for a moment.

"I have doubted your story that you are from another world,"
he said at last, "but yet upon no other grounds could
your ignorance of the ways of Pellucidar be explained.
Do you really mean that you do not know that you offended
the Beautiful One, and how?"

"I do not know, Ghak," I replied.

"Then shall I tell you. When a man of Pellucidar
intervenes between another man and the woman the other
man would have, the woman belongs to the victor.
Dian the Beautiful belongs to you. You should have claimed
her or released her. Had you taken her hand, it would
have indicated your desire to make her your mate, and had
you raised her hand above her head and then dropped it,
it would have meant that you did not wish her for a mate
and that you released her from all obligation to you.
By doing neither you have put upon her the greatest affront
that a man may put upon a woman. Now she is your slave.
No man will take her as mate, or may take her honorably,
until he shall have overcome you in combat, and men do not
choose slave women as their mates--at least not the men
of Pellucidar."

"I did not know, Ghak," I cried. "I did not know.
Not for all Pellucidar would I have harmed Dian the Beautiful
by word, or look, or act of mine. I do not want her as
my slave. I do not want her as my--" but here I stopped.
The vision of that sweet and innocent face floated before
me amidst the soft mists of imagination, and where I had
on the second believed that I clung only to the memory
of a gentle friendship I had lost, yet now it seemed
that it would have been disloyalty to her to have said
that I did not want Dian the Beautiful as my mate.
I had not thought of her except as a welcome friend
in a strange, cruel world. Even now I did not think
that I loved her.

I believe Ghak must have read the truth more in my
expression than in my words, for presently he laid
his hand upon my shoulder.

"Man of another world," he said, "I believe you.
Lips may lie, but when the heart speaks through the eyes
it tells only the truth. Your heart has spoken to me.
I know now that you meant no affront to Dian the Beautiful.
She is not of my tribe; but her mother is my sister.
She does not know it--her mother was stolen by Dian's
father who came with many others of the tribe of Amoz
to battle with us for our women--the most beautiful women
of Pellucidar. Then was her father king of Amoz, and her
mother was daughter of the king of Sari--to whose power I,
his son, have succeeded. Dian is the daughter of kings,
though her father is no longer king since the sadok tossed
him and Jubal the Ugly One wrested his kingship from him.
Because of her lineage the wrong you did her was greatly
magnified in the eyes of all who saw it. She will never
forgive you."

I asked Ghak if there was not some way in which I
could release the girl from the bondage and ignominy
I had unwittingly placed upon her.

"If ever you find her, yes," he answered. "Merely to
raise her hand above her head and drop it in the presence
of others is sufficient to release her; but how may you
ever find her, you who are doomed to a life of slavery
yourself in the buried city of Phutra?"

"Is there no escape?" I asked.

"Hooja the Sly One escaped and took the others with him,"
replied Ghak. "But there are no more dark places on
the way to Phutra, and once there it is not so easy--the
Mahars are very wise. Even if one escaped from Phutra
there are the thipdars--they would find you, and then--"
the Hairy One shuddered. "No, you will never escape
the Mahars."

It was a cheerful prospect. I asked Perry what he thought
about it; but he only shrugged his shoulders and continued
a longwinded prayer he had been at for some time.
He was wont to say that the only redeeming feature of our
captivity was the ample time it gave him for the improvisation
of prayers--it was becoming an obsession with him.
The Sagoths had begun to take notice of his habit
of declaiming throughout entire marches. One of them
asked him what he was saying--to whom he was talking.
The question gave me an idea, so I answered quickly
before Perry could say anything.

"Do not interrupt him," I said. "He is a very holy
man in the world from which we come. He is speaking
to spirits which you cannot see--do not interrupt him
or they will spring out of the air upon you and rend you
limb from limb--like that," and I jumped toward the great
brute with a loud "Boo!" that sent him stumbling backward.

I took a long chance, I realized, but if we could make
any capital out of Perry's harmless mania I wanted to make
it while the making was prime. It worked splendidly.
The Sagoths treated us both with marked respect during
the balance of the journey, and then passed the word along
to their masters, the Mahars.

Two marches after this episode we came to the city of Phutra.
The entrance to it was marked by two lofty towers of granite,
which guarded a flight of steps leading to the buried city.
Sagoths were on guard here as well as at a hundred or more
other towers scattered about over a large plain.

 

 

V

SLAVES

 

AS WE DESCENDED THE BROAD STAIRCASE WHICH led to the main
avenue of Phutra I caught my first sight of the dominant
race of the inner world. Involuntarily I shrank back
as one of the creatures approached to inspect us.
A more hideous thing it would be impossible to imagine.
The all-powerful Mahars of Pellucidar are great reptiles,
some six or eight feet in length, with long narrow heads
and great round eyes. Their beak-like mouths are lined
with sharp, white fangs, and the backs of their huge,
lizard bodies are serrated into bony ridges from their
necks to the end of their long tails. Their feet are
equipped with three webbed toes, while from the fore feet
membranous wings, which are attached to their bodies just
in front of the hind legs, protrude at an angle of 45
degrees toward the rear, ending in sharp points several
feet above their bodies.

I glanced at Perry as the thing passed me to inspect him.
The old man was gazing at the horrid creature with wide
astonished eyes. When it passed on, he turned to me.

"A rhamphorhynchus of the Middle Olitic, David," he said,
"but, gad, how enormous! The largest remains we ever
have discovered have never indicated a size greater than
that attained by an ordinary crow."

As we continued on through the main avenue of Phutra we
saw many thousand of the creatures coming and going upon
their daily duties. They paid but little attention to us.
Phutra is laid out underground with a regularity that
indicates remarkable engineering skill. It is hewn from
solid limestone strata. The streets are broad and of a
uniform height of twenty feet. At intervals tubes pierce
the roof of this underground city, and by means of lenses
and reflectors transmit the sunlight, softened and diffused,
to dispel what would otherwise be Cimmerian darkness.
In like manner air is introduced.

Perry and I were taken, with Ghak, to a large public building,
where one of the Sagoths who had formed our guard explained
to a Maharan official the circumstances surrounding our capture.
The method of communication between these two was remarkable
in that no spoken words were exchanged. They employed
a species of sign language. As I was to learn later,
the Mahars have no ears, not any spoken language.
Among themselves they communicate by means of what Perry
says must be a sixth sense which is cognizant of a fourth
dimension.

I never did quite grasp him, though he endeavored to explain
it to me upon numerous occasions. I suggested telepathy,
but he said no, that it was not telepathy since they could
only communicate when in each others' presence, nor could
they talk with the Sagoths or the other inhabitants
of Pellucidar by the same method they used to converse
with one another.

"What they do," said Perry, "is to project their thoughts
into the fourth dimension, when they become appreciable
to the sixth sense of their listener. Do I make myself
quite clear?"

"You do not, Perry," I replied. He shook his head
in despair, and returned to his work. They had set us
to carrying a great accumulation of Maharan literature
from one apartment to another, and there arranging it
upon shelves. I suggested to Perry that we were in the
public library of Phutra, but later, as he commenced
to discover the key to their written language, he assured
me that we were handling the ancient archives of the race.

During this period my thoughts were continually upon
Dian the Beautiful. I was, of course, glad that she had
escaped the Mahars, and the fate that had been suggested
by the Sagoth who had threatened to purchase her upon our
arrival at Phutra. I often wondered if the little party
of fugitives had been overtaken by the guards who had returned
to search for them. Sometimes I was not so sure but that I
should have been more contented to know that Dian was here
in Phutra, than to think of her at the mercy of Hooja
the Sly One. Ghak, Perry, and I often talked together
of possible escape, but the Sarian was so steeped in his
lifelong belief that no one could escape from the Mahars
except by a miracle, that he was not much aid to us--his
attitude was of one who waits for the miracle to come to him.

At my suggestion Perry and I fashioned some swords of scraps
of iron which we discovered among some rubbish in the cells
where we slept, for we were permitted almost unrestrained
freedom of action within the limits of the building to which
we had been assigned. So great were the number of slaves
who waited upon the inhabitants of Phutra that none of us
was apt to be overburdened with work, nor were our masters
unkind to us.

We hid our new weapons beneath the skins which formed
our beds, and then Perry conceived the idea of making bows
and arrows--weapons apparently unknown within Pellucidar.
Next came shields; but these I found it easier to steal
from the walls of the outer guardroom of the building.

We had completed these arrangements for our protection
after leaving Phutra when the Sagoths who had been sent
to recapture the escaped prisoners returned with four
of them, of whom Hooja was one. Dian and two others
had eluded them. It so happened that Hooja was confined
in the same building with us. He told Ghak that he had
not seen Dian or the others after releasing them within
the dark grotto. What had become of them he had not
the faintest conception--they might be wandering yet,
lost within the labyrinthine tunnel, if not dead
from starvation.

I was now still further apprehensive as to the fate
of Dian, and at this time, I imagine, came the first
realization that my affection for the girl might be
prompted by more than friendship. During my waking
hours she was constantly the subject of my thoughts,
and when I slept her dear face haunted my dreams.
More than ever was I determined to escape the Mahars.

"Perry, " I confided to the old man, "if I have to search
every inch of this diminutive world I am going to find
Dian the Beautiful and right the wrong I unintentionally
did her." That was the excuse I made for Perry's benefit.

"Diminutive world!" he scoffed. "You don't know what you
are talking about, my boy," and then he showed me a map
of Pellucidar which he had recently discovered among
the manuscript he was arranging.

"Look," he cried, pointing to it, "this is evidently water,
and all this land. Do you notice the general configuration
of the two areas? Where the oceans are upon the outer crust,
is land here. These relatively small areas of ocean follow
the general lines of the continents of the outer world.

"We know that the crust of the globe is 500 miles in thickness;
then the inside diameter of Pellucidar must be 7,000 miles,
and the superficial area 165,480,000 square miles.
Three-fourths of this is land. Think of it! A land area
of 124,110,000 square miles! Our own world contains
but 53,000,000 square miles of land, the balance of its
surface being covered by water. Just as we often compare
nations by their relative land areas, so if we compare
these two worlds in the same way we have the strange
anomaly of a larger world within a smaller one!

"Where within vast Pellucidar would you search for your
Dian? Without stars, or moon, or changing sun how could
you find her even though you knew where she might be found?"

The proposition was a corker. It quite took my breath away;
but I found that it left me all the more determined
to attempt it.

"If Ghak will accompany us we may be able to do it,"
I suggested.

Perry and I sought him out and put the question straight
to him.

"Ghak," I said, "we are determined to escape from
this bondage. Will you accompany us?"

"They will set the thipdars upon us," he said, "and then
we shall be killed; but--" he hesitated--"I would take
the chance if I thought that I might possibly escape
and return to my own people."

"Could you find your way back to your own land?" asked Perry.
"And could you aid David in his search for Dian?"

"Yes."

"But how," persisted Perry, "could you travel to strange
country without heavenly bodies or a compass to guide you?"

Ghak didn't know what Perry meant by heavenly bodies
or a compass, but he assured us that you might blindfold
any man of Pellucidar and carry him to the farthermost
corner of the world, yet he would be able to come directly
to his own home again by the shortest route. He seemed
surprised to think that we found anything wonderful in it.
Perry said it must be some sort of homing instinct such
as is possessed by certain breeds of earthly pigeons.
I didn't know, of course, but it gave me an idea.

"Then Dian could have found her way directly to her
own people?" I asked.

"Surely," replied Ghak, "unless some mighty beast of prey
killed her."

I was for making the attempted escape at once, but both Perry
and Ghak counseled waiting for some propitious accident
which would insure us some small degree of success.
I didn't see what accident could befall a whole community
in a land of perpetual daylight where the inhabitants had
no fixed habits of sleep. Why, I am sure that some of the
Mahars never sleep, while others may, at long intervals,
crawl into the dark recesses beneath their dwellings and
curl up in protracted slumber. Perry says that if a Mahar
stays awake for three years he will make up all his lost
sleep in a long year's snooze. That may be all true, but I
never saw but three of them asleep, and it was the sight
of these three that gave me a suggestion for our means of escape.

I had been searching about far below the levels that we
slaves were supposed to frequent--possibly fifty feet
beneath the main floor of the building--among a network
of corridors and apartments, when I came suddenly upon
three Mahars curled up upon a bed of skins. At first I
thought they were dead, but later their regular breathing
convinced me of my error. Like a flash the thought
came to me of the marvelous opportunity these sleeping
reptiles offered as a means of eluding the watchfulness
of our captors and the Sagoth guards.

Hastening back to Perry where he pored over a musty pile of,
to me, meaningless hieroglyphics, I explained my plan to him.
To my surprise he was horrified.

"It would be murder, David," he cried.

"Murder to kill a reptilian monster?" I asked in astonishment.

"Here they are not monsters, David," he replied.
"Here they are the dominant race--we are the 'monsters'--the
lower orders. In Pellucidar evolution has progressed
along different lines than upon the outer earth.
These terrible convulsions of nature time and time again
wiped out the existing species--but for this fact some
monster of the Saurozoic epoch might rule today upon
our own world. We see here what might well have occurred
in our own history had conditions been what they have been here.

"Life within Pellucidar is far younger than upon the outer crust.
Here man has but reached a stage analogous to the Stone
Age of our own world's history, but for countless millions
of years these reptiles have been progressing. Possibly it
is the sixth sense which I am sure they possess that has
given them an advantage over the other and more frightfully
armed of their fellows; but this we may never know.
They look upon us as we look upon the beasts of our fields,
and I learn from their written records that other races
of Mahars feed upon men--they keep them in great droves,
as we keep cattle. They breed them most carefully,
and when they are quite fat, they kill and eat them."

I shuddered.

"What is there horrible about it, David?" the old man asked.
"They understand us no better than we understand
the lower animals of our own world. Why, I have come
across here very learned discussions of the question
as to whether gilaks, that is men, have any means
of communication. One writer claims that we do not even
reason--that our every act is mechanical, or instinctive.
The dominant race of Pellucidar, David, have not yet
learned that men converse among themselves, or reason.
Because we do not converse as they do it is beyond them
to imagine that we converse at all. It is thus that we
reason in relation to the brutes of our own world.
They know that the Sagoths have a spoken language,
but they cannot comprehend it, or how it manifests itself,
since they have no auditory apparatus. They believe
that the motions of the lips alone convey the meaning.
That the Sagoths can communicate with us is incomprehensible
to them.

"Yes, David," he concluded, "it would entail murder
to carry out your plan."

"Very well then, Perry." I replied. "I shall become
a murderer."

He got me to go over the plan again most carefully,
and for some reason which was not at the time clear to me
insisted upon a very careful description of the apartments
and corridors I had just explored.

"I wonder, David," he said at length, "as you are determined
to carry out your wild scheme, if we could not accomplish
something of very real and lasting benefit for the human
race of Pellucidar at the same time. Listen, I have
learned much of a most surprising nature from these
archives of the Mahars. That you may not appreciate
my plan I shall briefly outline the history of the race.

"Once the males were all-powerful, but ages ago the females,
little by little, assumed the mastery. For other ages
no noticeable change took place in the race of Mahars.
It continued to progress under the intelligent and
beneficent rule of the ladies. Science took vast strides.
This was especially true of the sciences which we know
as biology and eugenics. Finally a certain female
scientist announced the fact that she had discovered
a method whereby eggs might be fertilized by chemical
means after they were laid--all true reptiles, you know,
are hatched from eggs.

"What happened? Immediately the necessity for males ceased
to exist--the race was no longer dependent upon them.
More ages elapsed until at the present time we find a race
consisting exclusively of females. But here is the point.
The secret of this chemical formula is kept by a single
race of Mahars. It is in the city of Phutra, and unless I
am greatly in error I judge from your description of the
vaults through which you passed today that it lies hidden
in the cellar of this building.

"For two reasons they hide it away and guard it jealously.
First, because upon it depends the very life of the race
of Mahars, and second, owing to the fact that when it
was public property as at first so many were experimenting
with it that the danger of over-population became very grave.

"David, if we can escape, and at the same time take with
us this great secret what will we not have accomplished
for the human race within Pellucidar!" The very thought
of it fairly overpowered me. Why, we two would be the
means of placing the men of the inner world in their
rightful place among created things. Only the Sagoths
would then stand between them and absolute supremacy,
and I was not quite sure but that the Sagoths owed all
their power to the greater intelligence of the Mahars--I
could not believe that these gorilla-like beasts
were the mental superiors of the human race of Pellucidar.

"Why, Perry," I exclaimed, "you and I may reclaim
a whole world! Together we can lead the races of men
out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of
advancement and civilization. At one step we may carry
them from the Age of Stone to the twentieth century.
It's marvelous--absolutely marvelous just to think about it."

"David," said the old man, "I believe that God sent us
here for just that purpose--it shall be my life work
to teach them His word--to lead them into the light
of His mercy while we are training their hearts and hands
in the ways of culture and civilization."

"You are right, Perry," I said, "and while you are teaching
them to pray I'll be teaching them to fight, and between
us we'll make a race of men that will be an honor to us both."

Ghak had entered the apartment some time before we
concluded our conversation, and now he wanted to know
what we were so excited about. Perry thought we had best
not tell him too much, and so I only explained that I
had a plan for escape. When I had outlined it to him,
he seemed about as horror-struck as Perry had been;
but for a different reason. The Hairy One only considered
the horrible fate that would be ours were we discovered;
but at last I prevailed upon him to accept my plan as
the only feasible one, and when I had assured him that I
would take all the responsibility for it were we captured,
he accorded a reluctant assent.

 

 

VI

THE BEGINNING OF HORROR

 

WITHIN PELLUCIDAR ONE TIME IS AS GOOD AS ANOTHER.
There were no nights to mask our attempted escape.
All must be done in broad daylight--all but the work
I had to do in the apartment beneath the building.
So we determined to put our plan to an immediate test
lest the Mahars who made it possible should awake before
I reached them; but we were doomed to disappointment,
for no sooner had we reached the main floor of the building
on our way to the pits beneath, than we encountered hurrying
bands of slaves being hastened under strong Sagoth guard
out of the edifice to the avenue beyond.

Other Sagoths were darting hither and thither in search
of other slaves, and the moment that we appeared we were
pounced upon and hustled into the line of marching humans.

What the purpose or nature of the general exodus we did
not know, but presently through the line of captives ran
the rumor that two escaped slaves had been recaptured--a
man and a woman--and that we were marching to witness
their punishment, for the man had killed a Sagoth
of the detachment that had pursued and overtaken them.

At the intelligence my heart sprang to my throat,
for I was sure that the two were of those who escaped
in the dark grotto with Hooja the Sly One, and that Dian
must be the woman. Ghak thought so too, as did Perry.

"Is there naught that we may do to save her?" I asked Ghak.

"Naught," he replied.

Along the crowded avenue we marched, the guards showing
unusual cruelty toward us, as though we, too, had been
implicated in the murder of their fellow. The occasion
was to serve as an object-lesson to all other slaves of
the danger and futility of attempted escape, and the fatal
consequences of taking the life of a superior being,
and so I imagine that Sagoths felt amply justified in making
the entire proceeding as uncomfortable and painful to
us as possible.

They jabbed us with their spears and struck at us with the
hatchets at the least provocation, and at no provocation
at all. It was a most uncomfortable half-hour that we
spent before we were finally herded through a low entrance
into a huge building the center of which was given up
to a good-sized arena. Benches surrounded this open
space upon three sides, and along the fourth were heaped
huge bowlders which rose in receding tiers toward the roof.

At first I couldn't make out the purpose of this mighty
pile of rock, unless it were intended as a rough and
picturesque background for the scenes which were enacted
in the arena before it, but presently, after the wooden
benches had been pretty well filled by slaves and Sagoths,
I discovered the purpose of the bowlders, for then
the Mahars began to file into the enclosure.

They marched directly across the arena toward the rocks upon
the opposite side, where, spreading their bat-like wings,
they rose above the high wall of the pit, settling down
upon the bowlders above. These were the reserved seats,
the boxes of the elect.

Reptiles that they are, the rough surface of a great stone
is to them as plush as upholstery to us. Here they lolled,
blinking their hideous eyes, and doubtless conversing with
one another in their sixth-sense- fourth-dimension language.

For the first time I beheld their queen. She differed
from the others in no feature that was appreciable
to my earthly eyes, in fact all Mahars look alike to me:
but when she crossed the arena after the balance of her
female subjects had found their bowlders, she was preceded
by a score of huge Sagoths, the largest I ever had seen,
and on either side of her waddled a huge thipdar,
while behind came another score of Sagoth guardsmen.

At the barrier the Sagoths clambered up the steep side
with truly apelike agility, while behind them the haughty
queen rose upon her wings with her two frightful dragons
close beside her, and settled down upon the largest
bowlder of them all in the exact center of that side of
the amphitheater which is reserved for the dominant race.
Here she squatted, a most repulsive and uninteresting queen;
though doubtless quite as well assured of her beauty
and divine right to rule as the proudest monarch of the
outer world.

And then the music started--music without sound! The Mahars
cannot hear, so the drums and fifes and horns of earthly
bands are unknown among them. The "band" consists of a
score or more Mahars. It filed out in the center of the
arena where the creatures upon the rocks might see it,
and there it performed for fifteen or twenty minutes.

Their technic consisted in waving their tails and moving
their heads in a regular succession of measured movements
resulting in a cadence which evidently pleased the eye
of the Mahar as the cadence of our own instrumental music
pleases our ears. Sometimes the band took measured steps
in unison to one side or the other, or backward and again
forward--it all seemed very silly and meaningless to me,
but at the end of the first piece the Mahars upon the
rocks showed the first indications of enthusiasm that I
had seen displayed by the dominant race of Pellucidar.
They beat their great wings up and down, and smote their rocky
perches with their mighty tails until the ground shook.
Then the band started another piece, and all was again
as silent as the grave. That was one great beauty about
Mahar music--if you didn't happen to like a piece that was
being played all you had to do was shut your eyes.

When the band had exhausted its repertory it took wing
and settled upon the rocks above and behind the queen.
Then the business of the day was on. A man and woman were
pushed into the arena by a couple of Sagoth guardsmen.
I leaned forward in my seat to scrutinize the female--hoping
against hope that she might prove to be another than Dian
the Beautiful. Her back was toward me for a while,
and the sight of the great mass of raven hair piled high
upon her head filled me with alarm.

Presently a door in one side of the arena wall was opened
to admit a huge, shaggy, bull-like creature.

"A Bos," whispered Perry, excitedly. "His kind roamed
the outer crust with the cave bear and the mammoth ages
and ages ago. We have been carried back a million years,
David, to the childhood of a planet--is it not wondrous?"

But I saw only the raven hair of a half-naked girl,
and my heart stood still in dumb misery at the sight of her,
nor had I any eyes for the wonders of natural history.
But for Perry and Ghak I should have leaped to the floor
of the arena and shared whatever fate lay in store for this
priceless treasure of the Stone Age.

With the advent of the Bos--they call the thing a thag
within Pellucidar--two spears were tossed into the arena
at the feet of the prisoners. It seemed to me that a bean
shooter would have been as effective against the mighty
monster as these pitiful weapons.

As the animal approached the two, bellowing and pawing
the ground with the strength of many earthly bulls,
another door directly beneath us was opened, and from
it issued the most terrific roar that ever had fallen
upon my outraged ears. I could not at first see
the beast from which emanated this fearsome challenge,
but the sound had the effect of bringing the two victims
around with a sudden start, and then I saw the girl's
face--she was not Dian! I could have wept for relief.

And now, as the two stood frozen in terror, I saw the author
of that fearsome sound creeping stealthily into view.
It was a huge tiger--such as hunted the great Bos
through the jungles primeval when the world was young.
In contour and markings it was not unlike the noblest
of the Bengals of our own world, but as its dimensions
were exaggerated to colossal proportions so too were
its colorings exaggerated. Its vivid yellows fairly
screamed aloud; its whites were as eider down; its blacks
glossy as the finest anthracite coal, and its coat long
and shaggy as a mountain goat. That it is a beautiful
animal there is no gainsaying, but if its size and colors
are magnified here within Pellucidar, so is the ferocity
of its disposition. It is not the occasional member
of its species that is a man hunter--all are man hunters;
but they do not confine their foraging to man alone,
for there is no flesh or fish within Pellucidar that they
will not eat with relish in the constant efforts which they
make to furnish their huge carcasses with sufficient
sustenance to maintain their mighty thews.

Upon one side of the doomed pair the thag bellowed
and advanced, and upon the other tarag, the frightful,
crept toward them with gaping mouth and dripping fangs.

The man seized the spears, handing one of them to the woman.
At the sound of the roaring of the tiger the bull's
bellowing became a veritable frenzy of rageful noise.
Never in my life had I heard such an infernal din as
the two brutes made, and to think it was all lost upon
the hideous reptiles for whom the show was staged!

The thag was charging now from one side, and the tarag
from the other. The two puny things standing between them
seemed already lost, but at the very moment that the beasts
were upon them the man grasped his companion by the arm
and together they leaped to one side, while the frenzied
creatures came together like locomotives in collision.

There ensued a battle royal which for sustained and frightful
ferocity transcends the power of imagination or description.
Time and again the colossal bull tossed the enormous tiger
high into the air, but each time that the huge cat touched
the ground he returned to the encounter with apparently
undiminished strength, and seemingly increased ire.

For a while the man and woman busied themselves only with
keeping out of the way of the two creatures, but finally I
saw them separate and each creep stealthily toward one of
the combatants. The tiger was now upon the bull's broad back,
clinging to the huge neck with powerful fangs while its long,
strong talons ripped the heavy hide into shreds and ribbons.

For a moment the bull stood bellowing and quivering
with pain and rage, its cloven hoofs widespread,
its tail lashing viciously from side to side, and then,
in a mad orgy of bucking it went careening about the
arena in frenzied attempt to unseat its rending rider.
It was with difficulty that the girl avoided the first mad
rush of the wounded animal.

All its efforts to rid itself of the tiger seemed futile,
until in desperation it threw itself upon the ground,
rolling over and over. A little of this so disconcerted
the tiger, knocking its breath from it I imagine,
that it lost its hold and then, quick as a cat, the great
thag was up again and had buried those mighty horns
deep in the tarag's abdomen, pinning him to the floor
of the arena.

The great cat clawed at the shaggy head until eyes and
ears were gone, and naught but a few strips of ragged,
bloody flesh remained upon the skull. Yet through all
the agony of that fearful punishment the thag still stood
motionless pinning down his adversary, and then the man
leaped in, seeing that the blind bull would be the least
formidable enemy, and ran his spear through the tarag's heart.

As the animal's fierce clawing ceased, the bull raised
his gory, sightless head, and with a horrid roar ran
headlong across the arena. With great leaps and bounds
he came, straight toward the arena wall directly beneath
where we sat, and then accident carried him, in one
of his mighty springs, completely over the barrier into
the midst of the slaves and Sagoths just in front of us.
Swinging his bloody horns from side to side the beast cut
a wide swath before him straight upward toward our seats.
Before him slaves and gorilla-men fought in mad stampede
to escape the menace of the creature's death agonies,
for such only could that frightful charge have been.

Forgetful of us, our guards joined in the general
rush for the exits, many of which pierced the wall
of the amphitheater behind us. Perry, Ghak, and I
became separated in the chaos which reigned for a few
moments after the beast cleared the wall of the arena,
each intent upon saving his own hide.

I ran to the right, passing several exits choked with the
fear mad mob that were battling to escape. One would
have thought that an entire herd of thags was loose
behind them, rather than a single blinded, dying beast;
but such is the effect of panic upon a crowd.

 

 

VII

FREEDOM

 

ONCE OUT OF THE DIRECT PATH OF THE ANIMAL, fear of it
left me, but another emotion as quickly gripped me--hope
of escape that the demoralized condition of the guards
made possible for the instant.

I thought of Perry, but for the hope that I might better
encompass his release if myself free I should have put
the thought of freedom from me at once. As it was I
hastened on toward the right searching for an exit toward
which no Sagoths were fleeing, and at last I found it--a low,
narrow aperture leading into a dark corridor.

Without thought of the possible consequence, I darted into
the shadows of the tunnel, feeling my way along through
the gloom for some distance. The noises of the amphitheater
had grown fainter and fainter until now all was as silent
as the tomb about me. Faint light filtered from above
through occasional ventilating and lighting tubes, but it
was scarce sufficient to enable my human eyes to cope with
the darkness, and so I was forced to move with extreme care,
feeling my way along step by step with a hand upon the
wall beside me.

Presently the light increased and a moment later,
to my delight, I came upon a flight of steps leading upward,
at the top of which the brilliant light of the noonday
sun shone through an opening in the ground.

Cautiously I crept up the stairway to the tunnel's end,
and peering out saw the broad plain of Phutra before me.
The numerous lofty, granite towers which mark the several
entrances to the subterranean city were all in front
of me--behind, the plain stretched level and unbroken
to the nearby foothills. I had come to the surface,
then, beyond the city, and my chances for escape seemed
much enhanced.

My first impulse was to await darkness before attempting
to cross the plain, so deeply implanted are habits
of thought; but of a sudden I recollected the perpetual
noonday brilliance which envelopes Pellucidar,
and with a smile I stepped forth into the day-light.

Rank grass, waist high, grows upon the plain of
Phutra--the gorgeous flowering grass of the inner world,
each particular blade of which is tipped with a tiny,
five-pointed blossom--brilliant little stars of varying
colors that twinkle in the green foliage to add still
another charm to the weird, yet lovely, land-scape.

But then the only aspect which attracted me was the distant
hills in which I hoped to find sanctuary, and so I hastened on,
trampling the myriad beauties beneath my hurrying feet.
Perry says that the force of gravity is less upon the
surface of the inner world than upon that of the outer.
He explained it all to me once, but I was never particularly
brilliant in such matters and so most of it has escaped me.
As I recall it the difference is due in some part to the
counter-attraction of that portion of the earth's crust
directly opposite the spot upon the face of Pellucidar
at which one's calculations are being made. Be that as
it may, it always seemed to me that I moved with greater
speed and agility within Pellucidar than upon the outer
surface--there was a certain airy lightness of step that was
most pleasing, and a feeling of bodily detachment which
I can only compare with that occasionally experienced in dreams.

And as I crossed Phutra's flower-bespangled plain that time
I seemed almost to fly, though how much of the sensation
was due to Perry's suggestion and how much to actuality
I am sure I do not know. The more I thought of Perry
the less pleasure I took in my new-found freedom.
There could be no liberty for me within Pellucidar unless
the old man shared it with me, and only the hope that I
might find some way to encompass his release kept me
from turning back to Phutra.

Just how I was to help Perry I could scarce imagine,
but I hoped that some fortuitous circumstance might solve
the problem for me. It was quite evident however that
little less than a miracle could aid me, for what could
I accomplish in this strange world, naked and unarmed?
It was even doubtful that I could retrace my steps
to Phutra should I once pass beyond view of the plain,
and even were that possible, what aid could I bring
to Perry no matter how far I wandered?

The case looked more and more hopeless the longer I viewed it,
yet with a stubborn persistency I forged ahead toward
the foothills. Behind me no sign of pursuit developed,
before me I saw no living thing. It was as though I
moved through a dead and forgotten world.

I have no idea, of course, how long it took me to reach
the limit of the plain, but at last I entered the foothills,
following a pretty little canyon upward toward
the mountains. Beside me frolicked a laughing brooklet,
hurrying upon its noisy way down to the silent sea.
In its quieter pools I discovered many small fish, of four-
or five-pound weight I should imagine. In appearance,
except as to size and color, they were not unlike the
whale of our own seas. As I watched them playing about
I discovered, not only that they suckled their young,
but that at intervals they rose to the surface to breathe
as well as to feed upon certain grasses and a strange,
scarlet lichen which grew upon the rocks just above the
water line.

It was this last habit that gave me the opportunity I
craved to capture one of these herbivorous cetaceans--that
is what Perry calls them--and make as good a meal as one can
on raw, warm-blooded fish; but I had become rather used,
by this time, to the eating of food in its natural state,
though I still balked on the eyes and entrails,
much to the amusement of Ghak, to whom I always passed
these delicacies.

Crouching beside the brook, I waited until one of the
diminutive purple whales rose to nibble at the long
grasses which overhung the water, and then, like the beast
of prey that man really is, I sprang upon my victim,
appeasing my hunger while he yet wriggled to escape.

Then I drank from the clear pool, and after washing my hands
and face continued my flight. Above the source of the brook
I encountered a rugged climb to the summit of a long ridge.
Beyond was a steep declivity to the shore of a placid,
inland sea, upon the quiet surface of which lay several
beautiful islands.

The view was charming in the extreme, and as no man or beast
was to be seen that might threaten my new-found liberty,
I slid over the edge of the bluff, and half sliding,
half falling, dropped into the delightful valley,
the very aspect of which seemed to offer a haven of peace
and security.

The gently sloping beach along which I walked was thickly
strewn with strangely shaped, colored shells; some empty,
others still housing as varied a multitude of mollusks
as ever might have drawn out their sluggish lives along the
silent shores of the antediluvian seas of the outer crust.
As I walked I could not but compare myself with the first
man of that other world, so complete the solitude which
surrounded me, so primal and untouched the virgin wonders
and beauties of adolescent nature. I felt myself a second
Adam wending my lonely way through the childhood of a world,
searching for my Eve, and at the thought there rose
before my mind's eye the exquisite outlines of a perfect
face surmounted by a loose pile of wondrous, raven hair.

As I walked, my eyes were bent upon the beach so that it
was not until I had come quite upon it that I discovered
that which shattered all my beautiful dream of solitude
and safety and peace and primal overlordship. The thing
was a hollowed log drawn upon the sands, and in the bottom
of it lay a crude paddle.

The rude shock of awakening to what doubtless might prove
some new form of danger was still upon me when I heard
a rattling of loose stones from the direction of the bluff,
and turning my eyes in that direction I beheld the
author of the disturbance, a great copper-colored man,
running rapidly toward me.

There was that in the haste with which he came which
seemed quite sufficiently menacing, so that I did
not need the added evidence of brandishing spear and
scowling face to warn me that I was in no safe position,
but whither to flee was indeed a momentous question.

The speed of the fellow seemed to preclude the possibility
of escaping him upon the open beach. There was but a
single alternative--the rude skiff--and with a celerity
which equaled his, I pushed the thing into the sea and
as it floated gave a final shove and clambered in over the end.

A cry of rage rose from the owner of the primitive craft,
and an instant later his heavy, stone-tipped spear grazed
my shoulder and buried itself in the bow of the boat beyond.
Then I grasped the paddle, and with feverish haste urged
the awkward, wobbly thing out upon the surface of the sea.

A glance over my shoulder showed me that the copper-colored
one had plunged in after me and was swimming rapidly
in pursuit. His mighty strokes bade fair to close up
the distance between us in short order, for at best I
could make but slow progress with my unfamiliar craft,
which nosed stubbornly in every direction but that which I
desired to follow, so that fully half my energy was
expended in turning its blunt prow back into the course.

I had covered some hundred yards from shore when it became
evident that my pursuer must grasp the stern of the skiff
within the next half-dozen strokes. In a frenzy of despair,
I bent to the grandfather of all paddles in a hopeless
effort to escape, and still the copper giant behind me
gained and gained.

His hand was reaching upward for the stern when I saw a sleek,
sinuous body shoot from the depths below. The man saw
it too, and the look of terror that overspread his face
assured me that I need have no further concern as to him,
for the fear of certain death was in his look.

And then about him coiled the great, slimy folds of a
hideous monster of that prehistoric deep--a mighty serpent
of the sea, with fanged jaws, and darting forked tongue,
with bulging eyes, and bony protuberances upon head
and snout that formed short, stout horns.

As I looked at that hopeless struggle my eyes met
those of the doomed man, and I could have sworn
that in his I saw an expression of hopeless appeal.
But whether I did or not there swept through me a sudden
compassion for the fellow. He was indeed a brother-man,
and that he might have killed me with pleasure
had he caught me was forgotten in the extremity of his danger.

Unconsciously I had ceased paddling as the serpent rose
to engage my pursuer, so now the skiff still drifted close
beside the two. The monster seemed to be but playing with his
victim before he closed his awful jaws upon him and dragged
him down to his dark den beneath the surface to devour him.
The huge, snakelike body coiled and uncoiled about its prey.
The hideous, gaping jaws snapped in the victim's face.
The forked tongue, lightning-like, ran in and out upon
the copper skin.

Nobly the giant battled for his life, beating with his
stone hatchet against the bony armor that covered that
frightful carcass; but for all the damage he inflicted
he might as well have struck with his open palm.

At last I could endure no longer to sit supinely by while
a fellowman was dragged down to a horrible death by that
repulsive reptile. Embedded in the prow of the skiff lay
the spear that had been cast after me by him whom I suddenly
desired to save. With a wrench I tore it loose, and standing
upright in the wobbly log drove it with all the strength
of my two arms straight into the gaping jaws of the hydrophidian.

With a loud hiss the creature abandoned its prey to
turn upon me, but the spear, imbedded in its throat,
prevented it from seizing me though it came near
to overturning the skiff in its mad efforts to reach me.

 

 

VIII

THE MAHAR TEMPLE

 

THE ABORIGINE, APPARENTLY UNINJURED, CLIMBED quickly into
the skiff, and seizing the spear with me helped to hold
off the infuriated creature. Blood from the wounded
reptile was now crimsoning the waters about us and soon
from the weakening struggles it became evident that I
had inflicted a death wound upon it. Presently its
efforts to reach us ceased entirely, and with a few
convulsive movements it turned upon its back quite dead.

And then there came to me a sudden realization of the
predicament in which I had placed myself. I was entirely
within the power of the savage man whose skiff I had stolen.
Still clinging to the spear I looked into his face to find
him scrutinizing me intently, and there we stood for some
several minutes, each clinging tenaciously to the weapon
the while we gazed in stupid wonderment at each other.

What was in his mind I do not know, but in my own was
merely the question as to how soon the fellow would
recommence hostilities.

Presently he spoke to me, but in a tongue which I was
unable to translate. I shook my head in an effort to
indicate my ignorance of his language, at the same time
addressing him in the bastard tongue that the Sagoths
use to converse with the human slaves of the Mahars.

To my delight he understood and answered me in the same jargon.

"What do you want of my spear?" he asked.

"Only to keep you from running it through me," I replied.

"I would not do that," he said, "for you have just saved
my life," and with that he released his hold upon it
and squatted down in the bottom of the skiff.

"Who are you," he continued, "and from what country
do you come?"

I too sat down, laying the spear between us, and tried
to explain how I came to Pellucidar, and wherefrom, but it
was as impossible for him to grasp or believe the strange
tale I told him as I fear it is for you upon the outer
crust to believe in the existence of the inner world.
To him it seemed quite ridiculous to imagine that there
was another world far beneath his feet peopled by
beings similar to himself, and he laughed uproariously
the more he thought upon it. But it was ever thus.
That which has never come within the scope of our really
pitifully meager world-experience cannot be--our finite
minds cannot grasp that which may not exist in accordance
with the conditions which obtain about us upon the outside
of the insignificant grain of dust which wends its tiny
way among the bowlders of the universe--the speck of moist
dirt we so proudly call the World.

So I gave it up and asked him about himself. He said he
was a Mezop, and that his name was Ja.

"Who are the Mezops?" I asked. "Where do they live?"

He looked at me in surprise.

"I might indeed believe that you were from another world,"
he said, "for who of Pellucidar could be so ignorant! The
Mezops live upon the islands of the seas. In so far as I
ever have heard no Mezop lives elsewhere, and no others
than Mezops dwell upon islands, but of course it may be
different in other far-distant lands. I do not know.
At any rate in this sea and those near by it is true that
only people of my race inhabit the islands.

"We are fishermen, though we be great hunters as well,
often going to the mainland in search of the game
that is scarce upon all but the larger islands. And we
are warriors also," he added proudly. "Even the Sagoths
of the Mahars fear us. Once, when Pellucidar was young,
the Sagoths were wont to capture us for slaves as they
do the other men of Pellucidar, it is handed down from
father to son among us that this is so; but we fought
so desperately and slew so many Sagoths, and those of us
that were captured killed so many Mahars in their own
cities that at last they learned that it were better
to leave us alone, and later came the time that the
Mahars became too indolent even to catch their own fish,
except for amusement, and then they needed us to supply
their wants, and so a truce was made between the races.
Now they give us certain things which we are unable
to produce in return for the fish that we catch,
and the Mezops and the Mahars live in peace.

"The great ones even come to our islands. It is there,
far from the prying eyes of their own Sagoths, that they
practice their religious rites in the temples they have
builded there with our assistance. If you live among
us you will doubtless see the manner of their worship,
which is strange indeed, and most unpleasant for the poor
slaves they bring to take part in it."

As Ja talked I had an excellent opportunity to inspect him
more closely. He was a huge fellow, standing I should say
six feet six or seven inches, well developed and of a coppery
red not unlike that of our own North American Indian,
nor were his features dissimilar to theirs. He had
the aquiline nose found among many of the higher tribes,
the prominent cheek bones, and black hair and eyes,
but his mouth and lips were better molded. All in all,
Ja was an impressive and handsome creature, and he talked
well too, even in the miserable makeshift language we
were compelled to use.

During our conversation Ja had taken the paddle and was
propelling the skiff with vigorous strokes toward a large
island that lay some half-mile from the mainland.
The skill with which he handled his crude and awkward
craft elicited my deepest admiration, since it had been
so short a time before that I had made such pitiful work
of it.

As we touched the pretty, level beach Ja leaped out
and I followed him. Together we dragged the skiff
far up into the bushes that grew beyond the sand.

"We must hide our canoes," explained Ja, "for the Mezops
of Luana are always at war with us and would steal them
if they found them," he nodded toward an island farther
out at sea, and at so great a distance that it seemed
but a blur hanging in the distant sky. The upward curve
of the surface of Pellucidar was constantly revealing the
impossible to the surprised eyes of the outer-earthly. To
see land and water curving upward in the distance until it
seemed to stand on edge where it melted into the distant sky,
and to feel that seas and mountains hung suspended directly
above one's head required such a complete reversal
of the perceptive and reasoning faculties as almost to
stupefy one.

No sooner had we hidden the canoe than Ja plunged
into the jungle, presently emerging into a narrow but
well-defined trail which wound hither and thither much
after the manner of the highways of all primitive folk,
but there was one peculiarity about this Mezop trail
which I was later to find distinguished them from all
other trails that I ever have seen within or without the earth.

It would run on, plain and clear and well defined to end
suddenly in the midst of a tangle of matted jungle, then Ja
would turn directly back in his tracks for a little distance,
spring into a tree, climb through it to the other side,
drop onto a fallen log, leap over a low bush and alight
once more upon a distinct trail which he would follow back
for a short distance only to turn directly about and retrace
his steps until after a mile or less this new pathway
ended as suddenly and mysteriously as the former section.
Then he would pass again across some media which would
reveal no spoor, to take up the broken thread of the
trail beyond.

As the purpose of this remarkable avenue dawned upon me I
could not but admire the native shrewdness of the ancient
progenitor of the Mezops who hit upon this novel plan to
throw his enemies from his track and delay or thwart them
in their attempts to follow him to his deep-buried cities.

To you of the outer earth it might seem a slow
and tortuous method of traveling through the jungle,
but were you of Pellucidar you would realize that time
is no factor where time does not exist. So labyrinthine
are the windings of these trails, so varied the connecting
links and the distances which one must retrace one's
steps from the paths' ends to find them that a Mezop
often reaches man's estate before he is familiar
even with those which lead from his own city to the sea.

In fact three-fourths of the education of the young
male Mezop consists in familiarizing himself with these
jungle avenues, and the status of an adult is largely
determined by the number of trails which he can follow
upon his own island. The females never learn them,
since from birth to death they never leave the clearing
in which the village of their nativity is situated except
they be taken to mate by a male from another village,
or captured in war by the enemies of their tribe.

After proceeding through the jungle for what must have been
upward of five miles we emerged suddenly into a large
clearing in the exact center of which stood as strange
an appearing village as one might well imagine.

Large trees had been chopped down fifteen or twenty feet
above the ground, and upon the tops of them spherical
habitations of woven twigs, mud covered, had been built.
Each ball-like house was surmounted by some manner
of carven image, which Ja told me indicated the identity
of the owner.

Horizontal slits, six inches high and two or three
feet wide, served to admit light and ventilation.
The entrances to the house were through small apertures
in the bases of the trees and thence upward by rude
ladders through the hollow trunks to the rooms above.
The houses varied in size from two to several rooms.
The largest that I entered was divided into two floors and
eight apartments.

All about the village, between it and the jungle,
lay beautifully cultivated fields in which the Mezops raised
such cereals, fruits, and vegetables as they required.
Women and children were working in these gardens as we crossed
toward the village. At sight of Ja they saluted deferentially,
but to me they paid not the slightest attention.
Among them and about the outer verge of the cultivated area
were many warriors. These too saluted Ja, by touching
the points of their spears to the ground directly before them.

Ja conducted me to a large house in the center of the
village--the house with eight rooms--and taking me up
into it gave me food and drink. There I met his mate,
a comely girl with a nursing baby in her arms. Ja told
her of how I had saved his life, and she was thereafter
most kind and hospitable toward me, even permitting me
to hold and amuse the tiny bundle of humanity whom Ja
told me would one day rule the tribe, for Ja, it seemed,
was the chief of the community.

We had eaten and rested, and I had slept, much to Ja's
amusement, for it seemed that he seldom if ever did so,
and then the red man proposed that I accompany him to the
temple of the Mahars which lay not far from his village.
"We are not supposed to visit it," he said; "but the great
ones cannot hear and if we keep well out of sight they need
never know that we have been there. For my part I hate them
and always have, but the other chieftains of the island
think it best that we continue to maintain the amicable
relations which exist between the two races; otherwise I
should like nothing better than to lead my warriors amongst
the hideous creatures and exterminate them--Pellucidar
would be a better place to live were there none of them."

I wholly concurred in Ja's belief, but it seemed that it
might be a difficult matter to exterminate the dominant race
of Pellucidar. Thus conversing we followed the intricate trail
toward the temple, which we came upon in a small clearing
surrounded by enormous trees similar to those which must
have flourished upon the outer crust during the carboniferous
age.

Here was a mighty temple of hewn rock built in the shape
of a rough oval with rounded roof in which were several
large openings. No doors or windows were visible in
the sides of the structure, nor was there need of any,
except one entrance for the slaves, since, as Ja explained,
the Mahars flew to and from their place of ceremonial,
entering and leaving the building by means of the apertures
in the roof.

"But," added Ja, "there is an entrance near the base
of which even the Mahars know nothing. Come," and he
led me across the clearing and about the end to a pile
of loose rock which lay against the foot of the wall.
Here he removed a couple of large bowlders, revealing a
small opening which led straight within the building,
or so it seemed, though as I entered after Ja I discovered
myself in a narrow place of extreme darkness.

"We are within the outer wall," said Ja. "It is hollow.
Follow me closely."

The red man groped ahead a few paces and then began
to ascend a primitive ladder similar to that which leads
from the ground to the upper stories of his house.
We ascended for some forty feet when the interior of
the space between the walls commenced to grow lighter
and presently we came opposite an opening in the inner
wall which gave us an unobstructed view of the entire
interior of the temple.

The lower floor was an enormous tank of clear water in
which numerous hideous Mahars swam lazily up and down.
Artificial islands of granite rock dotted this artificial sea,
and upon several of them I saw men and women like myself.

"What are the human beings doing here?" I asked.

"Wait and you shall see," replied Ja. "They are to take
a leading part in the ceremonies which will follow
the advent of the queen. You may be thankful that you
are not upon the same side of the wall as they."

Scarcely had he spoken than we heard a great fluttering
of wings above and a moment later a long procession
of the frightful reptiles of Pellucidar winged slowly
and majestically through the large central opening
in the roof and circled in stately manner about the temple.

There were several Mahars first, and then at least
twenty awe-inspiring pterodactyls--thipdars, they are
called within Pellucidar. Behind these came the queen,
flanked by other thipdars as she had been when she
entered the amphitheater at Phutra.

Three times they wheeled about the interior of the oval
chamber, to settle finally upon the damp, cold bowlders
that fringe the outer edge of the pool. In the center
of one side the largest rock was reserved for the queen,
and here she took her place surrounded by her terrible guard.

All lay quiet for several minutes after settling
to their places. One might have imagined them in
silent prayer. The poor slaves upon the diminutive
islands watched the horrid creatures with wide eyes.
The men, for the most part, stood erect and stately
with folded arms, awaiting their doom; but the women and
children clung to one another, hiding behind the males.
They are a noble-looking race, these cave men of Pellucidar,
and if our progenitors were as they, the human race
of the outer crust has deteriorated rather than improved
with the march of the ages. All they lack is opportunity.
We have opportunity, and little else.

Now the queen moved. She raised her ugly head,
looking about; then very slowly she crawled to the edge
of her throne and slid noiselessly into the water.
Up and down the long tank she swam, turning at the ends
as you have seen captive seals turn in their tiny tanks,
turning upon their backs and diving below the surface.

Nearer and nearer to the island she came until at last she
remained at rest before the largest, which was directly
opposite her throne. Raising her hideous head from the
water she fixed her great, round eyes upon the slaves.
They were fat and sleek, for they had been brought from
a distant Mahar city where human beings are kept in droves,
and bred and fattened, as we breed and fatten beef cattle.

The queen fixed her gaze upon a plump young maiden.
Her victim tried to turn away, hiding her face in her
hands and kneeling behind a woman; but the reptile,
with unblinking eyes, stared on with such fixity that I
could have sworn her vision penetrated the woman,
and the girl's arms to reach at last the very center of
her brain.

Slowly the reptile's head commenced to move to and fro,
but the eyes never ceased to bore toward the frightened girl,
and then the victim responded. She turned wide,
fear-haunted eyes toward the Mahar queen, slowly she rose
to her feet, and then as though dragged by some unseen power
she moved as one in a trance straight toward the reptile,
her glassy eyes fixed upon those of her captor.
To the water's edge she came, nor did she even pause,
but stepped into the shallows beside the little island.
On she moved toward the Mahar, who now slowly retreated as though
leading her victim on. The water rose to the girl's knees,
and still she advanced, chained by that clammy eye.
Now the water was at her waist; now her armpits.
Her fellows upon the island looked on in horror,
helpless to avert her doom in which they saw a forecast
of their own.

The Mahar sank now till only the long upper bill and eyes
were exposed above the surface of the water, and the
girl had advanced until the end of that repulsive beak
was but an inch or two from her face, her horror-filled
eyes riveted upon those of the reptile.

Now the water passed above the girl's mouth and nose--her
eyes and forehead all that showed--yet still she walked
on after the retreating Mahar. The queen's head slowly
disappeared beneath the surface and after it went the
eyes of her victim--only a slow ripple widened toward
the shores to mark where the two vanished.

For a time all was silence within the temple. The slaves
were motionless in terror. The Mahars watched the surface
of the water for the reappearance of their queen,
and presently at one end of the tank her head rose
slowly into view. She was backing toward the surface,
her eyes fixed before her as they had been when she
dragged the helpless girl to her doom.

And then to my utter amazement I saw the forehead
and eyes of the maiden come slowly out of the depths,
following the gaze of the reptile just as when she had
disappeared beneath the surface. On and on came the girl
until she stood in water that reached barely to her knees,
and though she had been beneath the surface sufficient time
to have drowned her thrice over there was no indication,
other than her dripping hair and glistening body,
that she had been submerged at all.

Again and again the queen led the girl into the depths
and out again, until the uncanny weirdness of the thing
got on my nerves so that I could have leaped into the tank
to the child's rescue had I not taken a firm hold of myself.

Once they were below much longer than usual, and when they came
to the surface I was horrified to see that one of the girl's
arms was gone--gnawed completely off at the shoulder--but
the poor thing gave no indication of realizing pain,
only the horror in her set eyes seemed intensified.

The next time they appeared the other arm was gone,
and then the breasts, and then a part of the face--it
was awful. The poor creatures on the islands awaiting
their fate tried to cover their eyes with their hands
to hide the fearful sight, but now I saw that they too
were under the hypnotic spell of the reptiles, so that
they could only crouch in terror with their eyes fixed
upon the terrible thing that was transpiring before them.

Finally the queen was under much longer than ever before,
and when she rose she came alone and swam sleepily
toward her bowlder. The moment she mounted it seemed
to be the signal for the other Mahars to enter the tank,
and then commenced, upon a larger scale, a repetition
of the uncanny performance through which the queen had led
her victim.

Only the women and children fell prey to the Mahars--they
being the weakest and most tender--and when they had satisfied
their appetite for human flesh, some of them devouring
two and three of the slaves, there were only a score
of full-grown men left, and I thought that for some reason
these were to be spared, but such was far from the case,
for as the last Mahar crawled to her rock the queen's thipdars
darted into the air, circled the temple once and then,
hissing like steam engines, swooped down upon the remaining
slaves.

There was no hypnotism here--just the plain, brutal ferocity
of the beast of prey, tearing, rending, and gulping its meat,
but at that it was less horrible than the uncanny method of
the Mahars. By the time the thipdars had disposed of the last
of the slaves the Mahars were all asleep upon their rocks,
and a moment later the great pterodactyls swung back
to their posts beside the queen, and themselves dropped
into slumber.

"I thought the Mahars seldom, if ever, slept," I said
to Ja.

"They do many things in this temple which they do not do
elsewhere,"
he replied. "The Mahars of Phutra are not supposed to eat
human flesh, yet slaves are brought here by thousands and
almost always you will find Mahars on hand to consume them.
I imagine that they do not bring their Sagoths here,
because they are ashamed of the practice, which is supposed
to obtain only among the least advanced of their race;
but I would wager my canoe against a broken paddle that
there is no Mahar but eats human flesh whenever she can get it."

"Why should they object to eating human flesh," I asked,
"if it is true that they look upon us as lower animals?"

"It is not because they consider us their equals that they are
supposed to look with abhorrence upon those who eat our flesh,"
replied Ja; "it is merely that we are warm-blooded animals.
They would not think of eating the meat of a thag, which we
consider such a delicacy, any more than I would think
of eating a snake. As a matter of fact it is difficult
to explain just why this sentiment should exist among them."

"I wonder if they left a single victim," I remarked,
leaning far out of the opening in the rocky wall to
inspect the temple better. Directly below me the water
lapped the very side of the wall, there being a break
in the bowlders at this point as there was at several
other places about the side of the temple.

My hands were resting upon a small piece of granite
which formed a part of the wall, and all my weight upon it
proved too much for it. It slipped and I lunged forward.
There was nothing to save myself and I plunged headforemost
into the water below.

Fortunately the tank was deep at this point, and I suffered
no injury from the fall, but as I was rising to the surface
my mind filled with the horrors of my position as I thought
of the terrible doom which awaited me the moment the eyes
of the reptiles fell upon the creature that had disturbed
their slumber.

As long as I could I remained beneath the surface,
swimming rapidly in the direction of the islands that I
might prolong my life to the utmost. At last I was
forced to rise for air, and as I cast a terrified glance
in the direction of the Mahars and the thipdars I was
almost stunned to see that not a single one remained upon
the rocks where I had last seen them, nor as I searched
the temple with my eyes could I discern any within it.

For a moment I was puzzled to account for the thing,
until I realized that the reptiles, being deaf, could not
have been disturbed by the noise my body made when it hit
the water, and that as there is no such thing as time
within Pellucidar there was no telling how long I had been
beneath the surface. It was a difficult thing to attempt
to figure out by earthly standards--this matter of elapsed
time--but when I set myself to it I began to realize
that I might have been submerged a second or a month
or not at all. You have no conception of the strange
contradictions and impossibilities which arise when all
methods of measuring time, as we know them upon earth,
are non-existent.

I was about to congratulate myself upon the miracle which had
saved me for the moment, when the memory of the hypnotic
powers of the Mahars filled me with apprehension lest
they be practicing their uncanny art upon me to the end
that I merely imagined that I was alone in the temple.
At the thought cold sweat broke out upon me from every pore,
and as I crawled from the water onto one of the tiny
islands I was trembling like a leaf--you cannot imagine
the awful horror which even the simple thought of the
repulsive Mahars of Pellucidar induces in the human mind,
and to feel that you are in their power--that they
are crawling, slimy, and abhorrent, to drag you down
beneath the waters and devour you! It is frightful.

But they did not come, and at last I came to the conclusion
that I was indeed alone within the temple. How long I
should be alone was the next question to assail me as I
swam frantically about once more in search of a means
to escape.

Several times I called to Ja, but he must have left
after I tumbled into the tank, for I received no response
to my cries. Doubtless he had felt as certain of my doom
when he saw me topple from our hiding place as I had,
and lest he too should be discovered, had hastened from
the temple and back to his village.

I knew that there must be some entrance to the building beside
the doorways in the roof, for it did not seem reasonable
to believe that the thousands of slaves which were brought
here to feed the Mahars the human flesh they craved would
all be carried through the air, and so I continued my search
until at last it was rewarded by the discovery of several
loose granite blocks in the masonry at one end of the temple.

A little effort proved sufficient to dislodge enough
of these stones to permit me to crawl through into
the clearing, and a moment later I had scurried across
the intervening space to the dense jungle beyond.

Here I sank panting and trembling upon the matted grasses
beneath the giant trees, for I felt that I had escaped
from the grinning fangs of death out of the depths of my
own grave. Whatever dangers lay hidden in this island jungle,
there could be none so fearsome as those which I had
just escaped. I knew that I could meet death bravely
enough if it but came in the form of some familiar beast
or man--anything other than the hideous and uncanny Mahars.

 

 

IX

THE FACE OF DEATH

 

I MUST HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP FROM EXHAUSTION. When I awoke
I was very hungry, and after busying myself searching
for fruit for a while, I set off through the jungle to
find the beach. I knew that the island was not so large
but that I could easily find the sea if I did but move
in a straight line, but there came the difficulty as there
was no way in which I could direct my course and hold it,
the sun, of course, being always directly above my head,
and the trees so thickly set that I could see no distant
object which might serve to guide me in a straight line.

As it was I must have walked for a great distance since I
ate four times and slept twice before I reached the sea,
but at last I did so, and my pleasure at the sight of it
was greatly enhanced by the chance discovery of a hidden
canoe among the bushes through which I had stumbled just
prior to coming upon the beach.

I can tell you that it did not take me long to pull
that awkward craft down to the water and shove it far
out from shore. My experience with Ja had taught me that
if I were to steal another canoe I must be quick about
it and get far beyond the owner's reach as soon as possible.

I must have come out upon the opposite side of the
island from that at which Ja and I had entered it,
for the mainland was nowhere in sight. For a long time I
paddled around the shore, though well out, before I saw
the mainland in the distance. At the sight of it I lost
no time in directing my course toward it, for I had long
since made up my mind to return to Phutra and give myself
up that I might be once more with Perry and Ghak the Hairy One.

I felt that I was a fool ever to have attempted to
escape alone, especially in view of the fact that our
plans were already well formulated to make a break for
freedom together. Of course I realized that the chances
of the success of our proposed venture were slim indeed,
but I knew that I never could enjoy freedom without
Perry so long as the old man lived, and I had learned
that the probability that I might find him was less than slight.

Had Perry been dead, I should gladly have pitted my
strength and wit against the savage and primordial world
in which I found myself. I could have lived in seclusion
within some rocky cave until I had found the means to
outfit myself with the crude weapons of the Stone Age,
and then set out in search of her whose image had now
become the constant companion of my waking hours,
and the central and beloved figure of my dreams.

But, to the best of my knowledge, Perry still lived
and it was my duty and wish to be again with him, that we
might share the dangers and vicissitudes of the strange
world we had discovered. And Ghak, too; the great,
shaggy man had found a place in the hearts of us both,
for he was indeed every inch a man and king.
Uncouth, perhaps, and brutal, too, if judged too harshly
by the standards of effete twentieth- century civilization,
but withal noble, dignified, chivalrous, and loveable.

Chance carried me to the very beach upon which I
had discovered Ja's canoe, and a short time later I
was scrambling up the steep bank to retrace my steps
from the plain of Phutra. But my troubles came when I
entered the canyon beyond the summit, for here I found
that several of them centered at the point where I
crossed the divide, and which one I had traversed
to reach the pass I could not for the life of me remember.

It was all a matter of chance and so I set off down
that which seemed the easiest going, and in this I made
the same mistake that many of us do in selecting the path
along which we shall follow out the course of our lives,
and again learned that it is not always best to follow
the line of least resistance.

By the time I had eaten eight meals and slept twice
I was convinced that I was upon the wrong trail,
for between Phutra and the inland sea I had not slept
at all, and had eaten but once. To retrace my steps
to the summit of the divide and explore another canyon
seemed the only solution of my problem, but a sudden
widening and levelness of the canyon just before me seemed
to suggest that it was about to open into a level country,
and with the lure of discovery strong upon me I decided
to proceed but a short distance farther before I turned back.

The next turn of the canyon brought me to its mouth,
and before me I saw a narrow plain leading down to an ocean.
At my right the side of the canyon continued to the
water's edge, the valley lying to my left, and the foot
of it running gradually into the sea, where it formed
a broad level beach.

Clumps of strange trees dotted the landscape here and there
almost to the water, and rank grass and ferns grew between.
From the nature of the vegetation I was convinced that
the land between the ocean and the foothills was swampy,
though directly before me it seemed dry enough all the
way to the sandy strip along which the restless waters
advanced and retreated.

Curiosity prompted me to walk down to the beach,
for the scene was very beautiful. As I passed along
beside the deep and tangled vegetation of the swamp I
thought that I saw a movement of the ferns at my left,
but though I stopped a moment to look it was not repeated,
and if anything lay hid there my eyes could not penetrate
the dense foliage to discern it.

Presently I stood upon the beach looking out over the
wide and lonely sea across whose forbidding bosom no
human being had yet ventured, to discover what strange
and mysterious lands lay beyond, or what its invisible
islands held of riches, wonders, or adventure.
What savage faces, what fierce and formidable beasts were
this very instant watching the lapping of the waves upon
its farther shore! How far did it extend? Perry had told
me that the seas of Pellucidar were small in comparison
with those of the outer crust, but even so this great ocean
might stretch its broad expanse for thousands of miles.
For countless ages it had rolled up and down its countless
miles of shore, and yet today it remained all unknown
beyond the tiny strip that was visible from its beaches.

The fascination of speculation was strong upon me.
It was as though I had been carried back to the birth
time of our own outer world to look upon its lands and
seas ages before man had traversed either. Here was a
new world, all untouched. It called to me to explore it.
I was dreaming of the excitement and adventure which lay
before us could Perry and I but escape the Mahars,
when something, a slight noise I imagine, drew my attention
behind me.

As I turned, romance, adventure, and discovery in the
abstract took wing before the terrible embodiment of all
three in concrete form that I beheld advancing upon me.

A huge, slimy amphibian it was, with toad-like body and the
mighty jaws of an alligator. Its immense carcass must have
weighed tons, and yet it moved swiftly and silently toward me.
Upon one hand was the bluff that ran from the canyon to the sea,
on the other the fearsome swamp from which the creature
had sneaked upon me, behind lay the mighty untracked sea,
and before me in the center of the narrow way that led
to safety stood this huge mountain of terrible and menacing
flesh.

A single glance at the thing was sufficient to assure me
that I was facing one of those long-extinct, prehistoric
creatures whose fossilized remains are found within
the outer crust as far back as the Triassic formation,
a gigantic labyrinthodon. And there I was, unarmed, and,
with the exception of a loin cloth, as naked as I had come
into the world. I could imagine how my first ancestor
felt that distant, prehistoric morn that he encountered
for the first time the terrifying progenitor of the thing
that had me cornered now beside the restless, mysterious sea.

Unquestionably he had escaped, or I should not have been
within Pellucidar or elsewhere, and I wished at that moment
that he had handed down to me with the various attributes
that I presumed I have inherited from him, the specific
application of the instinct of self-preservation which saved
him from the fate which loomed so close before me today.

To seek escape in the swamp or in the ocean would have been
similar to jumping into a den of lions to escape one upon
the outside. The sea and swamp both were doubtless alive
with these mighty, carnivorous amphibians, and if not,
the individual that menaced me would pursue me into either
the sea or the swamp with equal facility.

There seemed nothing to do but stand supinely and await my end.
I thought of Perry--how he would wonder what had become of me.
I thought of my friends of the outer world, and of how they
all would go on living their lives in total ignorance
of the strange and terrible fate that had overtaken me,
or unguessing the weird surroundings which had witnessed
the last frightful agony of my extinction. And with these
thoughts came a realization of how unimportant to the life
and happiness of the world is the existence of any one of us.
We may be snuffed out without an instant's warning, and for
a brief day our friends speak of us with subdued voices.
The following morning, while the first worm is busily
engaged in testing the construction of our coffin,
they are teeing up for the first hole to suffer more
acute sorrow over a sliced ball than they did over our,
to us, untimely demise. The labyrinthodon was coming
more slowly now. He seemed to realize that escape for me
was impossible, and I could have sworn that his huge,
fanged jaws grinned in pleasurable appreciation of
my predicament, or was it in anticipation of the juicy
morsel which would so soon be pulp between those
formidable teeth?

He was about fifty feet from me when I heard a voice
calling to me from the direction of the bluff at my left.
I looked and could have shouted in delight at the sight
that met my eyes, for there stood Ja, waving frantically
to me, and urging me to run for it to the cliff's base.

I had no idea that I should escape the monster that had
marked me for his breakfast, but at least I should not
die alone. Human eyes would watch me end. It was cold
comfort I presume, but yet I derived some slight peace
of mind from the contemplation of it.

To run seemed ridiculous, especially toward that steep
and unscalable cliff, and yet I did so, and as I ran I
saw Ja, agile as a monkey, crawl down the precipitous
face of the rocks, clinging to small projections, and the
tough creepers that had found root-hold here and there.

The labyrinthodon evidently thought that Ja was coming
to double his portion of human flesh, so he was in no
haste to pursue me to the cliff and frighten away this
other tidbit. Instead he merely trotted along behind me.

As I approached the foot of the cliff I saw what Ja intended
doing, but I doubted if the thing would prove successful.
He had come down to within twenty feet of the bottom,
and there, clinging with one hand to a small ledge,
and with his feet resting, precariously upon tiny bushes
that grew from the solid face of the rock, he lowered
the point of his long spear until it hung some six feet
above the ground.

To clamber up that slim shaft without dragging Ja down
and precipitating both to the same doom from which the
copper-colored one was attempting to save me seemed
utterly impossible, and as I came near the spear I told
Ja so, and that I could not risk him to try to save myself.

But he insisted that he knew what he was doing and was
in no danger himself.

"The danger is still yours," he called, "for unless you
move much more rapidly than you are now, the sithic
will be upon you and drag you back before ever you
are halfway up the spear--he can rear up and reach
you with ease anywhere below where I stand."

Well, Ja should know his own business, I thought, and so I
grasped the spear and clambered up toward the red man
as rapidly as I could--being so far removed from my simian
ancestors as I am. I imagine the slow-witted sithic,
as Ja called him, suddenly realized our intentions and
that he was quite likely to lose all his meal instead
of having it doubled as he had hoped.

When he saw me clambering up that spear he let out a hiss
that fairly shook the ground, and came charging after me
at a terrific rate. I had reached the top of the spear
by this time, or almost; another six inches would give
me a hold on Ja's hand, when I felt a sudden wrench from
below and glancing fearfully downward saw the mighty jaws
of the monster close on the sharp point of the weapon.

I made a frantic effort to reach Ja's hand, the sithic
gave a tremendous tug that came near to jerking Ja
from his frail hold on the surface of the rock,
the spear slipped from his fingers, and still clinging
to it I plunged feet foremost toward my executioner.

At the instant that he felt the spear come away from Ja's
hand the creature must have opened his huge jaws to catch me,
for when I came down, still clinging to the butt end
of the weapon, the point yet rested in his mouth and the
result was that the sharpened end transfixed his lower jaw.

With the pain he snapped his mouth closed.
I fell upon his snout, lost my hold upon the spear,
rolled the length of his face and head, across his
short neck onto his broad back and from there to the ground.

Scarce had I touched the earth than I was upon my feet,
dashing madly for the path by which I had entered this
horrible valley. A glance over my shoulder showed me
the sithic engaged in pawing at the spear stuck through
his lower jaw, and so busily engaged did he remain in this
occupation that I had gained the safety of the cliff top
before he was ready to take up the pursuit. When he did
not discover me in sight within the valley he dashed,
hissing into the rank vegetation of the swamp and that was
the last I saw of him.

 

 

X

PHUTRA AGAIN

 

I HASTENED TO THE CLIFF EDGE ABOVE JA AND helped him
to a secure footing. He would not listen to any thanks
for his attempt to save me, which had come so near miscarrying.

"I had given you up for lost when you tumbled into the
Mahar temple," he said, "for not even I could save you from
their clutches, and you may imagine my surprise when on
seeing a canoe dragged up upon the beach of the mainland
I discovered your own footprints in the sand beside it.

"I immediately set out in search of you, knowing as I did
that you must be entirely unarmed and defenseless against
the many dangers which lurk upon the mainland both in the
form of savage beasts and reptiles, and men as well.
I had no difficulty in tracking you to this point.
It is well that I arrived when I did."

"But why did you do it?" I asked, puzzled at this show
of friendship on the part of a man of another world
and a different race and color.

"You saved my life," he replied; "from that moment it
became my duty to protect and befriend you. I would
have been no true Mezop had I evaded my plain duty;
but it was a pleasure in this instance for I like you.
I wish that you would come and live with me. You shall
become a member of my tribe. Among us there is the best
of hunting and fishing, and you shall have, to choose
a mate from, the most beautiful girls of Pellucidar.
Will you come?"

I told him about Perry then, and Dian the Beautiful,
and how my duty was to them first. Afterward I should
return and visit him--if I could ever find his island.

"Oh, that is easy, my friend," he said. "You need merely
to come to the foot of the highest peak of the Mountains
of the Clouds. There you will find a river which flows
into the Lural Az. Directly opposite the mouth of the
river you will see three large islands far out, so far
that they are barely discernible, the one to the extreme
left as you face them from the mouth of the river is Anoroc,
where I rule the tribe of Anoroc."

"But how am I to find the Mountains of the Clouds?" I asked.
"Men say that they are visible from half Pellucidar,"
he replied.

"How large is Pellucidar?" I asked, wondering what sort
of theory these primitive men had concerning the form
and substance of their world.

"The Mahars say it is round, like the inside of a tola shell,"
he answered, "but that is ridiculous, since, were it true,
we should fall back were we to travel far in any direction,
and all the waters of Pellucidar would run to one spot
and drown us. No, Pellucidar is quite flat and extends
no man knows how far in all directions. At the edges,
so my ancestors have reported and handed down to me,
is a great wall that prevents the earth and waters from
escaping over into the burning sea whereon Pellucidar floats;
but I never have been so far from Anoroc as to have
seen this wall with my own eyes. However, it is quite
reasonable to believe that this is true, whereas there
is no reason at all in the foolish belief of the Mahars.
According to them Pellucidarians who live upon the opposite
side walk always with their heads pointed downward!" and Ja
laughed uproariously at the very thought.

It was plain to see that the human folk of this inner
world had not advanced far in learning, and the thought
that the ugly Mahars had so outstripped them was a
very pathetic one indeed. I wondered how many ages it
would take to lift these people out of their ignorance
even were it given to Perry and me to attempt it.
Possibly we would be killed for our pains as were those
men of the outer world who dared challenge the dense
ignorance and superstitions of the earth's younger days.
But it was worth the effort if the opportunity ever
presented itself.

And then it occurred to me that here was an opportunity--that
I might make a small beginning upon Ja, who was my friend,
and thus note the effect of my teaching upon a Pellucidarian.

"Ja," I said, "what would you say were I to tell you
that in so far as the Mahars' theory of the shape
of Pellucidar is concerned it is correct?"

"I would say," he replied, "that either you are a fool,
or took me for one."

"But, Ja," I insisted, "if their theory is incorrect
how do you account for the fact that I was able to pass
through the earth from the outer crust to Pellucidar.
If your theory is correct all is a sea of flame beneath us,
where in no peoples could exist, and yet I come from a
great world that is covered with human beings, and beasts,
and birds, and fishes in mighty oceans."

"You live upon the under side of Pellucidar, and walk
always with your head pointed downward?" he scoffed.
"And were I to believe that, my friend, I should indeed
be mad."

I attempted to explain the force of gravity to him,
and by the means of the dropped fruit to illustrate how
impossible it would be for a body to fall off the earth
under any circumstances. He listened so intently that I
thought I had made an impression, and started the train
of thought that would lead him to a partial understanding
of the truth. But I was mistaken.

"Your own illustration," he said finally, "proves the
falsity of your theory." He dropped a fruit from his hand
to the ground. "See," he said, "without support even this
tiny fruit falls until it strikes something that stops it.
If Pellucidar were not supported upon the flaming sea it too
would fall as the fruit falls--you have proven it yourself!"
He had me, that time--you could see it in his eye.

It seemed a hopeless job and I gave it up, temporarily at least,
for when I contemplated the necessity explanation of our
solar system and the universe I realized how futile it would
be to attempt to picture to Ja or any other Pellucidarian
the sun, the moon, the planets, and the countless stars.
Those born within the inner world could no more conceive
of such things than can we of the outer crust reduce
to factors appreciable to our finite minds such terms
as space and eternity.

"Well, Ja," I laughed, "whether we be walking with our feet
up or down, here we are, and the question of greatest
importance is not so much where we came from as where we
are going now. For my part I wish that you could guide
me to Phutra where I may give myself up to the Mahars
once more that my friends and I may work out the plan
of escape which the Sagoths interrupted when they
gathered us together and drove us to the arena to witness
the punishment of the slaves who killed the guardsman.
I wish now that I had not left the arena for by this
time my friends and I might have made good our escape,
whereas this delay may mean the wrecking of all our plans,
which depended for their consummation upon the continued
sleep of the three Mahars who lay in the pit beneath
the building in which we were confined."

"You would return to captivity?" cried Ja.

"My friends are there," I replied, "the only friends I
have in Pellucidar, except yourself. What else may I
do under the circumstances?"

He thought for a moment in silence. Then he shook his
head sorrowfully.

"It is what a brave man and a good friend should do,"
he said; "yet it seems most foolish, for the Mahars will
most certainly condemn you to death for running away,
and so you will be accomplishing nothing for your friends
by returning. Never in all my life have I heard of a
prisoner returning to the Mahars of his own free will.
There are but few who escape them, though some do,
and these would rather die than be recaptured."

"I see no other way, Ja," I said, "though I can assure
you that I would rather go to Sheol after Perry
than to Phutra. However, Perry is much too pious
to make the probability at all great that I should
ever be called upon to rescue him from the former locality."

Ja asked me what Sheol was, and when I explained, as best
I could, he said, "You are speaking of Molop Az, the flaming
sea upon which Pellucidar floats. All the dead who are buried
in the ground go there. Piece by piece they are carried
down to Molop Az by the little demons who dwell there.
We know this because when graves are opened we find that
the bodies have been partially or entirely borne off.
That is why we of Anoroc place our dead in high trees
where the birds may find them and bear them bit by bit
to the Dead World above the Land of Awful Shadow.
If we kill an enemy we place his body in the ground that it
may go to Molop Az."

As we talked we had been walking up the canyon down
which I had come to the great ocean and the sithic.
Ja did his best to dissuade me from returning to Phutra,
but when he saw that I was determined to do so,
he consented to guide me to a point from which I could see
the plain where lay the city. To my surprise the distance
was but short from the beach where I had again met Ja.
It was evident that I had spent much time following the
windings of a tortuous canon, while just beyond the ridge
lay the city of Phutra near to which I must have come
several times.

As we topped the ridge and saw the granite gate towers
dotting the flowered plain at our feet Ja made a final
effort to persuade me to abandon my mad purpose and
return with him to Anoroc, but I was firm in my resolve,
and at last he bid me good-bye, assured in his own mind
that he was looking upon me for the last time.

I was sorry to part with Ja, for I had come to like him
very much indeed. With his hidden city upon the island
of Anoroc as a base, and his savage warriors as escort
Perry and I could have accomplished much in the line
of exploration, and I hoped that were we successful
in our effort to escape we might return to Anoroc later.

There was, however, one great thing to be accomplished
first--at least it was the great thing to me--the finding
of Dian the Beautiful. I wanted to make amends for the
affront I had put upon her in my ignorance, and I wanted
to--well, I wanted to see her again, and to be with her.

Down the hillside I made my way into the gorgeous field
of flowers, and then across the rolling land toward the
shadowless columns that guard the ways to buried Phutra.
At a quarter-mile from the nearest entrance I was
discovered by the Sagoth guard, and in an instant four
of the gorilla-men were dashing toward me.

Though they brandished their long spears and yelled
like wild Comanches I paid not the slightest attention
to them, walking quietly toward them as though unaware
of their existence. My manner had the effect upon them
that I had hoped, and as we came quite near together they
ceased their savage shouting. It was evident that they
had expected me to turn and flee at sight of them,
thus presenting that which they most enjoyed, a moving
human target at which to cast their spears.

"What do you here?" shouted one, and then as he recognized me,
"Ho! It is the slave who claims to be from another world--he
who escaped when the thag ran amuck within the amphitheater.
But why do you return, having once made good your escape?"

"I did not 'escape'," I replied. "I but ran away to avoid
the thag, as did others, and coming into a long passage
I became confused and lost my way in the foothills
beyond Phutra. Only now have I found my way back."

"And you come of your free will back to Phutra!"
exclaimed one of the guardsmen.

"Where else might I go?" I asked. "I am a stranger
within Pellucidar and know no other where than Phutra.
Why should I not desire to be in Phutra? Am I not well fed
and well treated? Am I not happy? What better lot could
man desire?"

The Sagoths scratched their heads. This was a new one
on them, and so being stupid brutes they took me to their
masters whom they felt would be better fitted to solve
the riddle of my return, for riddle they still considered it.

I had spoken to the Sagoths as I had for the purpose
of throwing them off the scent of my purposed attempt
at escape. If they thought that I was so satisfied
with my lot within Phutra that I would voluntarily return
when I had once had so excellent an opportunity to escape,
they would never for an instant imagine that I could
be occupied in arranging another escape immediately
upon my return to the city.

So they led me before a slimy Mahar who clung to a slimy
rock within the large room that was the thing's office.
With cold, reptilian eyes the creature seemed to bore through
the thin veneer of my deceit and read my inmost thoughts.
It heeded the story which the Sagoths told of my return
to Phutra, watching the gorilla-men's lips and fingers
during the recital. Then it questioned me through one of
the Sagoths.

"You say that you returned to Phutra of your own free will,
because you think yourself better off here than elsewhere--do
you not know that you may be the next chosen to give up
your life in the interests of the wonderful scientific
investigations that our learned ones are continually
occupied with?"

I hadn't heard of anything of that nature, but I thought
best not to admit it.

"I could be in no more danger here," I said, "than naked
and unarmed in the savage jungles or upon the lonely
plains of Pellucidar. I was fortunate, I think, to return
to Phutra at all. As it was I barely escaped death within
the jaws of a huge sithic. No, I am sure that I am safer
in the hands of intelligent creatures such as rule Phutra.
At least such would be the case in my own world, where human
beings like myself rule supreme. There the higher races
of man extend protection and hospitality to the stranger
within their gates, and being a stranger here I naturally
assumed that a like courtesy would be accorded me."

The Mahar looked at me in silence for some time after I
ceased speaking and the Sagoth had translated my words
to his master. The creature seemed deep in thought.
Presently he communicated some message to the Sagoth.
The latter turned, and motioning me to follow him, left the
presence of the reptile. Behind and on either side of me
marched the balance of the guard.

"What are they going to do with me?" I asked the fellow
at my right.

"You are to appear before the learned ones who will
question you regarding this strange world from which you
say you come."

After a moment's silence he turned to me again.

"Do you happen to know," he asked, "what the Mahars
do to slaves who lie to them?"

"No," I replied, "nor does it interest me, as I have
no intention of lying to the Mahars."

"Then be careful that you don't repeat the impossible
tale you told Sol-to-to just now--another world, indeed,
where human beings rule!" he concluded in fine scorn.

"But it is the truth," I insisted. "From where else then
did I come? I am not of Pellucidar. Anyone with half
an eye could see that."

"It is your misfortune then," he remarked dryly, "that you
may not be judged by one with but half an eye."

"What will they do with me," I asked, "if they do not
have a mind to believe me?"

"You may be sentenced to the arena, or go to the pits
to be used in research work by the learned ones,"
he replied.

"And what will they do with me there?" I persisted.

"No one knows except the Mahars and those who go to the pits
with them, but as the latter never return, their knowledge
does them but little good. It is said that the learned
ones cut up their subjects while they are yet alive,
thus learning many useful things. However I should not
imagine that it would prove very useful to him who was
being cut up; but of course this is all but conjecture.
The chances are that ere long you will know much
more about it than I," and he grinned as he spoke.
The Sagoths have a well-developed sense of humor.

"And suppose it is the arena," I continued; "what then?"

"You saw the two who met the tarag and the thag the time
that you escaped?" he said.

"Yes. "

"Your end in the arena would be similar to what was
intended for them," he explained, "though of course
the same kinds of animals might not be employed."

"It is sure death in either event?" I asked.

"What becomes of those who go below with the learned
ones I do not know, nor does any other," he replied;
"but those who go to the arena may come out alive and thus
regain their liberty, as did the two whom you saw."

"They gained their liberty? And how?"

"It is the custom of the Mahars to liberate those who
remain alive within the arena after the beasts depart
or are killed. Thus it has happened that several mighty
warriors from far distant lands, whom we have captured
on our slave raids, have battled the brutes turned in upon
them and slain them, thereby winning their freedom.
In the instance which you witnessed the beasts killed
each other, but the result was the same--the man and woman
were liberated, furnished with weapons, and started
on their homeward journey. Upon the left shoulder
of each a mark was burned--the mark of the Mahars--which
will forever protect these two from slaving parties."

"There is a slender chance for me then if I be sent
to the arena, and none at all if the learned ones drag
me to the pits?"

"You are quite right," he replied; "but do not felicitate
yourself too quickly should you be sent to the arena,
for there is scarce one in a thousand who comes out alive."

To my surprise they returned me to the same building in which I
had been confined with Perry and Ghak before my escape.
At the doorway I was turned over to the guards there.

"He will doubtless be called before the investigators shortly,"
said he who had brought me back," so have him in readiness."

The guards in whose hands I now found myself, upon hearing
that I had returned of my own volition to Phutra evidently
felt that it would be safe to give me liberty within
the building as had been the custom before I had escaped,
and so I was told to return to whatever duty had been
mine formerly.

My first act was to hunt up Perry; whom I found poring
as usual over the great tomes that he was supposed to be
merely dusting and rearranging upon new shelves.

As I entered the room he glanced up and nodded pleasantly
to me, only to resume his work as though I had never
been away at all. I was both astonished and hurt at
his indifference. And to think that I was risking death
to return to him purely from a sense of duty and affection!

"Why, Perry!" I exclaimed, "haven't you a word for me
after my long absence?"

"Long absence!" he repeated in evident astonishment.
"What do you mean?"

"Are you crazy, Perry? Do you mean to say that you
have not missed me since that time we were separated
by the charging thag within the arena?"

"'That time'," he repeated. "Why man, I have but just
returned from the arena! You reached here almost
as soon as I. Had you been much later I should indeed
have been worried, and as it is I had intended
asking you about how you escaped the beast as soon
as I had completed the translation of this most
interesting passage."

"Perry, you ARE mad," I exclaimed. "Why, the Lord only knows
how long I have been away. I have been to other lands,
discovered a new race of humans within Pellucidar,
seen the Mahars at their worship in their hidden temple,
and barely escaped with my life from them and from a
great labyrinthodon that I met afterward, following my
long and tedious wanderings across an unknown world.
I must have been away for months, Perry, and now you barely
look up from your work when I return and insist that we
have been separated but a moment. Is that any way to treat
a friend? I'm surprised at you, Perry, and if I'd thought
for a moment that you cared no more for me than this I
should not have returned to chance death at the hands
of the Mahars for your sake."

The old man looked at me for a long time before he spoke.
There was a puzzled expression upon his wrinkled face,
and a look of hurt sorrow in his eyes.

"David, my boy," he said, "how could you for a moment
doubt my love for you? There is something strange here
that I cannot understand. I know that I am not mad,
and I am equally sure that you are not; but how in the
world are we to account for the strange hallucinations
that each of us seems to harbor relative to the passage
of time since last we saw each other. You are positive
that months have gone by, while to me it seems equally
certain that not more than an hour ago I sat beside you
in the amphitheater. Can it be that both of us are
right and at the same time both are wrong? First tell me
what time is, and then maybe I can solve our problem.
Do you catch my meaning?"

I didn't and said so.

"Yes," continued the old man, "we are both right. To me,
bent over my book here, there has been no lapse of time.
I have done little or nothing to waste my energies
and so have required neither food nor sleep, but you,
on the contrary, have walked and fought and wasted strength
and tissue which must needs be rebuilt by nutriment
and food, and so, having eaten and slept many times
since last you saw me you naturally measure the lapse
of time largely by these acts. As a matter of fact,
David, I am rapidly coming to the conviction that there
is no such thing as time--surely there can be no time here
within Pellucidar, where there are no means for measuring
or recording time. Why, the Mahars themselves take
no account of such a thing as time. I find here in all
their literary works but a single tense, the present.
There seems to be neither past nor future with them.
Of course it is impossible for our outer-earthly minds
to grasp such a condition, but our recent experiences seem
to demonstrate its existence."

It was too big a subject for me, and I said so, but Perry
seemed to enjoy nothing better than speculating upon it,
and after listening with interest to my account of the
adventures through which I had passed he returned once more
to the subject, which he was enlarging upon with considerable
fluency when he was interrupted by the entrance of a Sagoth.

"Come!" commanded the intruder, beckoning to me.
"The investigators would speak with you."

"Good-bye, Perry!" I said, clasping the old man's hand.
"There may be nothing but the present and no such thing
as time, but I feel that I am about to take a trip
into the hereafter from which I shall never return.
If you and Ghak should manage to escape I want you to
promise me that you will find Dian the Beautiful and tell
her that with my last words I asked her forgiveness
for the unintentional affront I put upon her, and that my
one wish was to be spared long enough to right the wrong
that I had done her."

Tears came to Perry's eyes.

"I cannot believe but that you will return, David," he said.
"It would be awful to think of living out the balance of my
life without you among these hateful and repulsive creatures.
If you are taken away I shall never escape, for I feel
that I am as well off here as I should be anywhere within
this buried world. Good-bye, my boy, good-bye!" and then
his old voice faltered and broke, and as he hid his face
in his hands the Sagoth guardsman grasped me roughly
by the shoulder and hustled me from the chamber.

 

 

XI

FOUR DEAD MAHARS

 

A MOMENT LATER I WAS STANDING BEFORE A DOZEN
Mahars--the social investigators of Phutra. They asked
me many questions, through a Sagoth interpreter.
I answered them all truthfully. They seemed particularly
interested in my account of the outer earth and the strange
vehicle which had brought Perry and me to Pellucidar.
I thought that I had convinced them, and after they had
sat in silence for a long time following my examination,
I expected to be ordered returned to my quarters.

During this apparent silence they were debating through
the medium of strange, unspoken language the merits of
my tale. At last the head of the tribunal communicated
the result of their conference to the officer in charge
of the Sagoth guard.

"Come," he said to me, "you are sentenced to the
experimental pits for having dared to insult the
intelligence of the mighty ones with the ridiculous
tale you have had the temerity to unfold to them."

"Do you mean that they do not believe me?" I asked,
totally astonished.

"Believe you!" he laughed. "Do you mean to say that you
expected any one to believe so impossible a lie?"

It was hopeless, and so I walked in silence beside my
guard down through the dark corridors and runways toward
my awful doom. At a low level we came upon a number
of lighted chambers in which we saw many Mahars engaged
in various occupations. To one of these chambers my guard
escorted me, and before leaving they chained me to a
side wall. There were other humans similarly chained.
Upon a long table lay a victim even as I was ushered
into the room. Several Mahars stood about the poor
creature holding him down so that he could not move.
Another, grasping a sharp knife with her three-toed
fore foot, was laying open the victim's chest and abdomen.
No anesthetic had been administered and the shrieks
and groans of the tortured man were terrible to hear.
This, indeed, was vivisection with a vengeance.
Cold sweat broke out upon me as I realized that soon my turn
would come. And to think that where there was no such
thing as time I might easily imagine that my suffering
was enduring for months before death finally released me!

The Mahars had paid not the slightest attention to me
as I had been brought into the room. So deeply immersed
were they in their work that I am sure they did
not even know that the Sagoths had entered with me.
The door was close by. Would that I could reach it!
But those heavy chains precluded any such possibility.
I looked about for some means of escape from my bonds.
Upon the floor between me and the Mahars lay a tiny
surgical instrument which one of them must have dropped.
It looked not unlike a button-hook, but was much smaller,
and its point was sharpened. A hundred times in my boyhood
days had I picked locks with a buttonhook. Could I but
reach that little bit of polished steel I might yet effect
at least a temporary escape.

Crawling to the limit of my chain, I found that by
reaching one hand as far out as I could my fingers
still fell an inch short of the coveted instrument.
It was tantalizing! Stretch every fiber of my being
as I would, I could not quite make it.

At last I turned about and extended one foot toward
the object. My heart came to my throat! I could just
touch the thing! But suppose that in my effort to drag it
toward me I should accidentally shove it still farther
away and thus entirely out of reach! Cold sweat broke
out upon me from every pore. Slowly and cautiously I
made the effort. My toes dropped upon the cold metal.
Gradually I worked it toward me until I felt that it was
within reach of my hand and a moment later I had turned
about and the precious thing was in my grasp.

Assiduously I fell to work upon the Mahar lock that held
my chain. It was pitifully simple. A child might have
picked it, and a moment later I was free. The Mahars
were now evidently completing their work at the table.
One already turned away and was examining other victims,
evidently with the intention of selecting the next subject.

Those at the table had their backs toward me. But for the
creature walking toward us I might have escaped that moment.
Slowly the thing approached me, when its attention was
attracted by a huge slave chained a few yards to my right.
Here the reptile stopped and commenced to go over the poor
devil carefully, and as it did so its back turned toward me
for an instant, and in that instant I gave two mighty leaps
that carried me out of the chamber into the corridor beyond,
down which I raced with all the speed I could command.

Where I was, or whither I was going, I knew not.
My only thought was to place as much distance as possible
between me and that frightful chamber of torture.

Presently I reduced my speed to a brisk walk, and later
realizing the danger of running into some new predicament,
were I not careful, I moved still more slowly and cautiously.
After a time I came to a passage that seemed in some
mysterious way familiar to me, and presently, chancing to
glance within a chamber which led from the corridor I saw
three Mahars curled up in slumber upon a bed of skins.
I could have shouted aloud in joy and relief. It was
the same corridor and the same Mahars that I had intended
to have lead so important a role in our escape from Phutra.
Providence had indeed been kind to me, for the reptiles
still slept.

My one great danger now lay in returning to the upper
levels in search of Perry and Ghak, but there was nothing
else to be done, and so I hastened upward. When I came
to the frequented portions of the building, I found a large
burden of skins in a corner and these I lifted to my head,
carrying them in such a way that ends and corners fell
down about my shoulders completely hiding my face.
Thus disguised I found Perry and Ghak together in the
chamber where we had been wont to eat and sleep.

Both were glad to see me, it was needless to say, though of
course they had known nothing of the fate that had been
meted out to me by my judges. It was decided that no time
should now be lost before attempting to put our plan of
escape to the test, as I could not hope to remain hidden
from the Sagoths long, nor could I forever carry that bale
of skins about upon my head without arousing suspicion.
However it seemed likely that it would carry me once
more safely through the crowded passages and chambers
of the upper levels, and so I set out with Perry and
Ghak--the stench of the illy cured pelts fairly choking me.

Together we repaired to the first tier of corridors beneath
the main floor of the buildings, and here Perry and Ghak
halted to await me. The buildings are cut out of the solid
limestone formation. There is nothing at all remarkable about
their architecture. The rooms are sometimes rectangular,
sometimes circular, and again oval in shape. The corridors
which connect them are narrow and not always straight.
The chambers are lighted by diffused sunlight reflected
through tubes similar to those by which the avenues
are lighted. The lower the tiers of chambers, the darker.
Most of the corridors are entirely unlighted. The Mahars
can see quite well in semidarkness.

Down to the main floor we encountered many Mahars,
Sagoths, and slaves; but no attention was paid to us as we
had become a part of the domestic life of the building.
There was but a single entrance leading from the place
into the avenue and this was well guarded by Sagoths--this
doorway alone were we forbidden to pass. It is true
that we were not supposed to enter the deeper corridors
and apartments except on special occasions when we were
instructed to do so; but as we were considered a lower
order without intelligence there was little reason
to fear that we could accomplish any harm by so doing,
and so we were not hindered as we entered the corridor
which led below.

Wrapped in a skin I carried three swords, and the two bows,
and the arrows which Perry and I had fashioned.
As many slaves bore skin-wrapped burdens to and fro my load
attracted no comment. Where I left Ghak and Perry there
were no other creatures in sight, and so I withdrew one sword
from the package, and leaving the balance of the weapons
with Perry, started on alone toward the lower levels.

Having come to the apartment in which the three Mahars slept
I entered silently on tiptoe, forgetting that the creatures
were without the sense of hearing. With a quick thrust
through the heart I disposed of the first but my second
thrust was not so fortunate, so that before I could kill
the next of my victims it had hurled itself against the third,
who sprang quickly up, facing me with wide-distended jaws.
But fighting is not the occupation which the race
of Mahars loves, and when the thing saw that I already
had dispatched two of its companions, and that my sword
was red with their blood, it made a dash to escape me.
But I was too quick for it, and so, half hopping,
half flying, it scurried down another corridor with me
close upon its heels.

Its escape meant the utter ruin of our plan, and in all
probability my instant death. This thought lent wings
to my feet; but even at my best I could do no more than
hold my own with the leaping thing before me.

Of a sudden it turned into an apartment on the right
of the corridor, and an instant later as I rushed
in I found myself facing two of the Mahars. The one
who had been there when we entered had been occupied
with a number of metal vessels, into which had been put
powders and liquids as I judged from the array of flasks
standing about upon the bench where it had been working.
In an instant I realized what I had stumbled upon.
It was the very room for the finding of which Perry had
given me minute directions. It was the buried chamber
in which was hidden the Great Secret of the race of Mahars.
And on the bench beside the flasks lay the skin-bound book
which held the only copy of the thing I was to have sought,
after dispatching the three Mahars in their sleep.

There was no exit from the room other than the doorway
in which I now stood facing the two frightful reptiles.
Cornered, I knew that they would fight like demons,
and they were well equipped to fight if fight they must.
Together they launched themselves upon me, and though I ran
one of them through the heart on the instant, the other
fastened its gleaming fangs about my sword arm above
the elbow, and then with her sharp talons commenced to rake
me about the body, evidently intent upon disemboweling me.
I saw that it was useless to hope that I might release
my arm from that powerful, viselike grip which seemed
to be severing my arm from my body. The pain I suffered
was intense, but it only served to spur me to greater
efforts to overcome my antagonist.

Back and forth across the floor we struggled--the Mahar
dealing me terrific, cutting blows with her fore feet,
while I attempted to protect my body with my left hand,
at the same time watching for an opportunity to transfer
my blade from my now useless sword hand to its rapidly
weakening mate. At last I was successful, and with what
seemed to me my last ounce of strength I ran the blade
through the ugly body of my foe.

Soundless, as it had fought, it died, and though weak from
pain and loss of blood, it was with an emotion of triumphant
pride that I stepped across its convulsively stiffening
corpse to snatch up the most potent secret of a world.
A single glance assured me it was the very thing that
Perry had described to me.

And as I grasped it did I think of what it meant to the
human race of Pellucidar--did there flash through my
mind the thought that countless generations of my own
kind yet unborn would have reason to worship me for the
thing that I had accomplished for them? I did not.
I thought of a beautiful oval face, gazing out of
limpid eyes, through a waving mass of jet-black hair.
I thought of red, red lips, God-made for kissing.
And of a sudden, apropos of nothing, standing there
alone in the secret chamber of the Mahars of Pellucidar,
I realized that I loved Dian the Beautiful.

 

 

XII

PURSUIT

 

FOR AN INSTANT I STOOD THERE THINKING OF HER, and then,
with a sigh, I tucked the book in the thong that supported
my loin cloth, and turned to leave the apartment.
At the bottom of the corridor which leads aloft from
the lower chambers I whistled in accordance with the
prearranged signal which was to announce to Perry and Ghak
that I had been successful. A moment later they stood
beside me, and to my surprise I saw that Hooja the Sly
One accompanied them.

"He joined us," explained Perry, "and would not be denied.
The fellow is a fox. He scents escape, and rather than
be thwarted of our chance now I told him that I would
bring him to you, and let you decide whether he might
accompany us."

I had no love for Hooja, and no confidence in him.
I was sure that if he thought it would profit him he would
betray us; but I saw no way out of it now, and the fact
that I had killed four Mahars instead of only the three I
had expected to, made it possible to include the fellow
in our scheme of escape.

"Very well," I said, "you may come with us, Hooja; but at
the first intimation of treachery I shall run my sword
through you. Do you understand?"

He said that he did.

Some time later we had removed the skins from the four Mahars,
and so succeeded in crawling inside of them ourselves
that there seemed an excellent chance for us to pass
unnoticed from Phutra. It was not an easy thing to fasten
the hides together where we had split them along the belly
to remove them from their carcasses, but by remaining
out until the others had all been sewed in with my help,
and then leaving an aperture in the breast of Perry's
skin through which he could pass his hands to sew me up,
we were enabled to accomplish our design to really much
better purpose than I had hoped. We managed to keep the
heads erect by passing our swords up through the necks,
and by the same means were enabled to move them about in
a life-like manner. We had our greatest difficulty with
the webbed feet, but even that problem was finally solved,
so that when we moved about we did so quite naturally.
Tiny holes punctured in the baggy throats into which our
heads were thrust permitted us to see well enough to guide
our progress.

Thus we started up toward the main floor of the building.
Ghak headed the strange procession, then came Perry,
followed by Hooja, while I brought up the rear,
after admonishing Hooja that I had so arranged my sword
that I could thrust it through the head of my disguise into
his vitals were he to show any indication of faltering.

As the noise of hurrying feet warned me that we were
entering the busy corridors of the main level, my heart
came up into my mouth. It is with no sense of shame that I
admit that I was frightened--never before in my life,
nor since, did I experience any such agony of soulsearing
fear and suspense as enveloped me. If it be possible
to sweat blood, I sweat it then.

Slowly, after the manner of locomotion habitual to
the Mahars, when they are not using their wings, we crept
through throngs of busy slaves, Sagoths, and Mahars.
After what seemed an eternity we reached the outer door
which leads into the main avenue of Phutra. Many Sagoths
loitered near the opening. They glanced at Ghak as he
padded between them. Then Perry passed, and then Hooja.
Now it was my turn, and then in a sudden fit of freezing
terror I realized that the warm blood from my wounded arm
was trickling down through the dead foot of the Mahar skin
I wore and leaving its tell-tale mark upon the pavement,
for I saw a Sagoth call a companion's attention to it.

The guard stepped before me and pointing to my bleeding
foot spoke to me in the sign language which these two
races employ as a means of communication. Even had I
known what he was saying I could not have replied
with the dead thing that covered me. I once had seen
a great Mahar freeze a presumptuous Sagoth with a look.
It seemed my only hope, and so I tried it. Stopping in
my tracks I moved my sword so that it made the dead head
appear to turn inquiring eyes upon the gorilla-man. For
a long moment I stood perfectly still, eyeing the fellow
with those dead eyes. Then I lowered the head and started
slowly on. For a moment all hung in the balance,
but before I touched him the guard stepped to one side,
and I passed on out into the avenue.

On we went up the broad street, but now we were safe
for the very numbers of our enemies that surrounded us
on all sides. Fortunately, there was a great concourse
of Mahars repairing to the shallow lake which lies a mile
or more from the city. They go there to indulge their
amphibian proclivities in diving for small fish, and enjoying
the cool depths of the water. It is a fresh-water lake,
shallow, and free from the larger reptiles which make the use
of the great seas of Pellucidar impossible for any but their
own kind.

In the thick of the crowd we passed up the steps and out
onto the plain. For some distance Ghak remained with the
stream that was traveling toward the lake, but finally,
at the bottom of a little gully he halted, and there we
remained until all had passed and we were alone. Then,
still in our disguises, we set off directly away from Phutra.

The heat of the vertical rays of the sun was fast
making our horrible prisons unbearable, so that after
passing a low divide, and entering a sheltering forest,
we finally discarded the Mahar skins that had brought
us thus far in safety.

I shall not weary you with the details of that bitter
and galling flight. How we traveled at a dogged run until
we dropped in our tracks. How we were beset by strange
and terrible beasts. How we barely escaped the cruel fangs
of lions and tigers the size of which would dwarf into
pitiful insignificance the greatest felines of the outer world.

On and on we raced, our one thought to put as much
distance between ourselves and Phutra as possible.
Ghak was leading us to his own land--the land of Sari.
No sign of pursuit had developed, and yet we were sure
that somewhere behind us relentless Sagoths were dogging
our tracks. Ghak said they never failed to hunt down
their quarry until they had captured it or themselves been
turned back by a superior force.

Our only hope, he said, lay in reaching his tribe
which was quite strong enough in their mountain fastness
to beat off any number of Sagoths.

At last, after what seemed months, and may, I now realize,
have been years, we came in sight of the dun escarpment
which buttressed the foothills of Sari. At almost
the same instant, Hooja, who looked ever quite as much
behind as before, announced that he could see a body
of men far behind us topping a low ridge in our wake.
It was the long-expected pursuit.

I asked Ghak if we could make Sari in time to escape them.

"We may," he replied; "but you will find that the
Sagoths can move with incredible swiftness, and as they
are almost tireless they are doubtless much fresher
than we. Then--" he paused, glancing at Perry.

I knew what he meant. The old man was exhausted.
For much of the period of our flight either Ghak or I had
half supported him on the march. With such a handicap,
less fleet pursuers than the Sagoths might easily
overtake us before we could scale the rugged heights
which confronted us.

"You and Hooja go on ahead," I said. "Perry and I will make
it if we are able. We cannot travel as rapidly as you two,
and there is no reason why all should be lost because
of that. It can't be helped--we have simply to face it."

"I will not desert a companion," was Ghak's simple reply.
I hadn't known that this great, hairy, primeval man had
any such nobility of character stowed away inside him.
I had always liked him, but now to my liking was added honor
and respect. Yes, and love.

But still I urged him to go on ahead, insisting that if he
could reach his people he might be able to bring out
a sufficient force to drive off the Sagoths and rescue
Perry and myself.

No, he wouldn't leave us, and that was all there was to it,
but he suggested that Hooja might hurry on and warn
the Sarians of the king's danger. It didn't require much
urging to start Hooja--the naked idea was enough to send
him leaping on ahead of us into the foothills which we
now had reached.

Perry realized that he was jeopardizing Ghak's life and mine
and the old fellow fairly begged us to go on without him,
although I knew that he was suffering a perfect anguish
of terror at the thought of falling into the hands of
the Sagoths. Ghak finally solved the problem, in part,
by lifting Perry in his powerful arms and carrying him.
While the act cut down Ghak's speed he still could travel
faster thus than when half supporting the stumbling
old man.

 

 

XIII

THE SLY ONE

 

THE SAGOTHS WERE GAINING ON US RAPIDLY, FOR once they
had sighted us they had greatly increased their speed.
On and on we stumbled up the narrow canyon that Ghak had
chosen to approach the heights of Sari. On either side
rose precipitous cliffs of gorgeous, parti-colored rock,
while beneath our feet a thick mountain grass formed a soft
and noiseless carpet. Since we had entered the canyon we
had had no glimpse of our pursuers, and I was commencing
to hope that they had lost our trail and that we would
reach the now rapidly nearing cliffs in time to scale them
before we should be overtaken.

Ahead we neither saw nor heard any sign which might
betoken the success of Hooja's mission. By now he
should have reached the outposts of the Sarians, and we
should at least hear the savage cries of the tribesmen
as they swarmed to arms in answer to their king's appeal
for succor. In another moment the frowning cliffs ahead
should be black with primeval warriors. But nothing
of the kind happened--as a matter of fact the Sly One
had betrayed us. At the moment that we expected to see
Sarian spearmen charging to our relief at Hooja's back,
the craven traitor was sneaking around the outskirts
of the nearest Sarian village, that he might come up
from the other side when it was too late to save us,
claiming that he had become lost among the mountains.

Hooja still harbored ill will against me because of the blow
I had struck in Dian's protection, and his malevolent spirit
was equal to sacrificing us all that he might be revenged upon
me.

As we drew nearer the barrier cliffs and no sign of rescuing
Sarians appeared Ghak became both angry and alarmed,
and presently as the sound of rapidly approaching pursuit
fell upon our ears, he called to me over his shoulder
that we were lost.

A backward glance gave me a glimpse of the first of
the Sagoths at the far end of a considerable stretch
of canyon through which we had just passed, and then
a sudden turning shut the ugly creature from my view;
but the loud howl of triumphant rage which rose behind
us was evidence that the gorilla-man had sighted us.

Again the canyon veered sharply to the left, but to the
right another branch ran on at a lesser deviation from
the general direction, so that appeared more like the main
canyon than the lefthand branch. The Sagoths were now
not over two hundred and fifty yards behind us, and I saw
that it was hopeless for us to expect to escape other than
by a ruse. There was a bare chance of saving Ghak and Perry,
and as I reached the branching of the canyon I took the chance.

Pausing there I waited until the foremost Sagoth hove
into sight. Ghak and Perry had disappeared around a bend
in the left-hand canyon, and as the Sagoth's savage
yell announced that he had seen me I turned and fled
up the right-hand branch. My ruse was successful,
and the entire party of man-hunters raced headlong after
me up one canyon while Ghak bore Perry to safety up the other.

Running has never been my particular athletic forte,
and now when my very life depended upon fleetness of foot
I cannot say that I ran any better than on the occasions
when my pitiful base running had called down upon my head
the rooter's raucous and reproachful cries of "Ice Wagon,"
and "Call a cab."

The Sagoths were gaining on me rapidly. There was
one in particular, fleeter than his fellows, who was
perilously close. The canyon had become a rocky slit,
rising roughly at a steep angle toward what seemed a pass
between two abutting peaks. What lay beyond I could
not even guess--possibly a sheer drop of hundreds of feet
into the corresponding valley upon the other side.
Could it be that I had plunged into a cul-de-sac?

Realizing that I could not hope to outdistance the Sagoths
to the top of the canyon I had determined to risk all
in an attempt to check them temporarily, and to this
end had unslung my rudely made bow and plucked an arrow
from the skin quiver which hung behind my shoulder.
As I fitted the shaft with my right hand I stopped
and wheeled toward the gorilla-man.

In the world of my birth I never had drawn a shaft,
but since our escape from Phutra I had kept the party
supplied with small game by means of my arrows, and so,
through necessity, had developed a fair degree of accuracy.
During our flight from Phutra I had restrung my bow with a piece
of heavy gut taken from a huge tiger which Ghak and I had
worried and finally dispatched with arrows, spear, and sword.
The hard wood of the bow was extremely tough and this,
with the strength and elasticity of my new string,
gave me unwonted confidence in my weapon.

Never had I greater need of steady nerves than then--never
were my nerves and muscles under better control.
I sighted as carefully and deliberately as though at
a straw target. The Sagoth had never before seen a bow
and arrow, but of a sudden it must have swept over his dull
intellect that the thing I held toward him was some sort
of engine of destruction, for he too came to a halt,
simultaneously swinging his hatchet for a throw.
It is one of the many methods in which they employ
this weapon, and the accuracy of aim which they achieve,
even under the most unfavorable circumstances, is little
short of miraculous.

My shaft was drawn back its full length--my eye had centered
its sharp point upon the left breast of my adversary;
and then he launched his hatchet and I released my arrow.
At the instant that our missiles flew I leaped to one side,
but the Sagoth sprang forward to follow up his attack
with a spear thrust. I felt the swish of the hatchet
at it grazed my head, and at the same instant my shaft
pierced the Sagoth's savage heart, and with a single groan
he lunged almost at my feet--stone dead. Close behind
him were two more--fifty yards perhaps--but the distance
gave me time to snatch up the dead guardsman's shield,
for the close call his hatchet had just given me had borne
in upon me the urgent need I had for one. Those which I
had purloined at Phutra we had not been able to bring along
because their size precluded our concealing them within
the skins of the Mahars which had brought us safely from
the city.

With the shield slipped well up on my left arm I let fly
with another arrow, which brought down a second Sagoth,
and then as his fellow's hatchet sped toward me I caught
it upon the shield, and fitted another shaft for him;
but he did not wait to receive it. Instead, he turned and
retreated toward the main body of gorilla-men. Evidently he
had seen enough of me for the moment.

Once more I took up my flight, nor were the Sagoths
apparently overanxious to press their pursuit so closely
as before. Unmolested I reached the top of the canyon
where I found a sheer drop of two or three hundred feet
to the bottom of a rocky chasm; but on the left a narrow
ledge rounded the shoulder of the overhanging cliff.
Along this I advanced, and at a sudden turning,
a few yards beyond the canyon's end, the path widened,
and at my left I saw the opening to a large cave.
Before, the ledge continued until it passed from sight
about another projecting buttress of the mountain.

Here, I felt, I could defy an army, for but a single
foeman could advance upon me at a time, nor could he know
that I was awaiting him until he came full upon me around
the corner of the turn. About me lay scattered stones
crumbled from the cliff above. They were of various
sizes and shapes, but enough were of handy dimensions
for use as ammunition in lieu of my precious arrows.
Gathering a number of stones into a little pile beside
the mouth of the cave I waited the advance of the Sagoths.

As I stood there, tense and silent, listening for the
first faint sound that should announce the approach
of my enemies, a slight noise from within the cave's
black depths attracted my attention. It might have
been produced by the moving of the great body of some
huge beast rising from the rock floor of its lair.
At almost the same instant I thought that I caught the
scraping of hide sandals upon the ledge beyond the turn.
For the next few seconds my attention was considerably divided.

And then from the inky blackness at my right I saw two
flaming eyes glaring into mine. They were on a level
that was over two feet above my head. It is true that the
beast who owned them might be standing upon a ledge within
the cave, or that it might be rearing up upon its hind legs;
but I had seen enough of the monsters of Pellucidar to know
that I might be facing some new and frightful Titan whose
dimensions and ferocity eclipsed those of any I had seen before.

Whatever it was, it was coming slowly toward the entrance
of the cave, and now, deep and forbidding, it uttered a low
and ominous growl. I waited no longer to dispute possession
of the ledge with the thing which owned that voice.
The noise had not been loud--I doubt if the Sagoths heard
it at all--but the suggestion of latent possibilities
behind it was such that I knew it would only emanate
from a gigantic and ferocious beast.

As I backed along the ledge I soon was past the mouth
of the cave, where I no longer could see those fearful
flaming eyes, but an instant later I caught sight of the
fiendish face of a Sagoth as it warily advanced beyond
the cliff's turn on the far side of the cave's mouth.
As the fellow saw me he leaped along the ledge in pursuit,
and after him came as many of his companions as could
crowd upon each other's heels. At the same time the beast
emerged from the cave, so that he and the Sagoths came
face to face upon that narrow ledge.

The thing was an enormous cave bear, rearing its colossal
bulk fully eight feet at the shoulder, while from the tip
of its nose to the end of its stubby tail it was fully twelve
feet in length. As it sighted the Sagoths it emitted a most
frightful roar, and with open mouth charged full upon them.
With a cry of terror the foremost gorilla-man turned to escape,
but behind him he ran full upon his on-rushing companions.

The horror of the following seconds is indescribable.
The Sagoth nearest the cave bear, finding his escape
blocked, turned and leaped deliberately to an awful
death upon the jagged rocks three hundred feet below.
Then those giant jaws reached out and gathered in the
next--there was a sickening sound of crushing bones,
and the mangled corpse was dropped over the cliff's edge.
Nor did the mighty beast even pause in his steady advance
along the ledge.

Shrieking Sagoths were now leaping madly over the precipice
to escape him, and the last I saw he rounded the turn still
pursuing the demoralized remnant of the man hunters.
For a long time I could hear the horrid roaring of the brute
intermingled with the screams and shrieks of his victims,
until finally the awful sounds dwindled and disappeared
in the distance.

Later I learned from Ghak, who had finally come to his
tribesmen and returned with a party to rescue me,
that the ryth, as it is called, pursued the Sagoths until
it had exterminated the entire band. Ghak was, of course,
positive that I had fallen prey to the terrible creature,
which, within Pellucidar, is truly the king of beasts.

Not caring to venture back into the canyon, where I
might fall prey either to the cave bear or the Sagoths I
continued on along the ledge, believing that by following
around the mountain I could reach the land of Sari from
another direction. But I evidently became confused by the
twisting and turning of the canyons and gullies, for I did
not come to the land of Sari then, nor for a long time
thereafter.

 

 

XIV

THE GARDEN OF EDEN

 

WITH NO HEAVENLY GUIDE, IT IS LITTLE WONDER that I became
confused
and lost in the labyrinthine maze of those mighty hills.
What, in reality, I did was to pass entirely through them
and come out above the valley upon the farther side.
I know that I wandered for a long time, until tired and
hungry I came upon a small cave in the face of the limestone
formation which had taken the place of the granite farther back.

The cave which took my fancy lay halfway up the precipitous
side of a lofty cliff. The way to it was such that I
knew no extremely formidable beast could frequent it,
nor was it large enough to make a comfortable habitat
for any but the smaller mammals or reptiles. Yet it
was with the utmost caution that I crawled within its
dark interior.

Here I found a rather large chamber, lighted by a
narrow cleft in the rock above which let the sunlight
filter in in sufficient quantities partially to dispel
the utter darkness which I had expected. The cave was
entirely empty, nor were there any signs of its having been
recently occupied. The opening was comparatively small,
so that after considerable effort I was able to lug
up a bowlder from the valley below which entirely blocked it.

Then I returned again to the valley for an armful of grasses
and on this trip was fortunate enough to knock over
an orthopi, the diminutive horse of Pellucidar, a little
animal about the size of a fox terrier, which abounds
in all parts of the inner world. Thus, with food
and bedding I returned to my lair, where after a meal
of raw meat, to which I had now become quite accustomed,
I dragged the bowlder before the entrance and curled
myself upon a bed of grasses--a naked, primeval, cave man,
as savagely primitive as my prehistoric progenitors.

I awoke rested but hungry, and pushing the bowlder aside
crawled out upon the little rocky shelf which was my
front porch. Before me spread a small but beautiful valley,
through the center of which a clear and sparkling river
wound its way down to an inland sea, the blue waters
of which were just visible between the two mountain ranges
which embraced this little paradise. The sides of the
opposite hills were green with verdure, for a great forest
clothed them to the foot of the red and yellow and copper
green of the towering crags which formed their summit.
The valley itself was carpeted with a luxuriant grass,
while here and there patches of wild flowers made great
splashes of vivid color against the prevailing green.

Dotted over the face of the valley were little clusters
of palmlike trees--three or four together as a rule.
Beneath these stood antelope, while others grazed in the open,
or wandered gracefully to a near-by ford to drink.
There were several species of this beautiful animal,
the most magnificent somewhat resembling the giant eland
of Africa, except that their spiral horns form a complete
curve backward over their ears and then forward again
beneath them, ending in sharp and formidable points
some two feet before the face and above the eyes.
In size they remind one of a pure bred Hereford bull,
yet they are very agile and fast. The broad yellow bands
that stripe the dark roan of their coats made me take
them for zebra when I first saw them. All in all they
are handsome animals, and added the finishing touch
to the strange and lovely landscape that spread before my
new home.

I had determined to make the cave my headquarters,
and with it as a base make a systematic exploration
of the surrounding country in search of the land
of Sari. First I devoured the remainder of the carcass
of the orthopi I had killed before my last sleep.
Then I hid the Great Secret in a deep niche at the back
of my cave, rolled the bowlder before my front door,
and with bow, arrows, sword, and shield scrambled down
into the peaceful valley.

The grazing herds moved to one side as I passed through them,
the little orthopi evincing the greatest wariness and
galloping to safest distances. All the animals stopped
feeding as I approached, and after moving to what they
considered a safe distance stood contemplating me with
serious eyes and up-cocked ears. Once one of the old bull
antelopes of the striped species lowered his head and
bellowed angrily--even taking a few steps in my direction,
so that I thought he meant to charge; but after I had passed,
he resumed feeding as though nothing had disturbed him.

Near the lower end of the valley I passed a number of tapirs,
and across the river saw a great sadok, the enormous
double-horned progenitor of the modern rhinoceros.
At the valley's end the cliffs upon the left ran
out into the sea, so that to pass around them as I
desired to do it was necessary to scale them in search
of a ledge along which I might continue my journey.
Some fifty feet from the base I came upon a projection
which formed a natural path along the face of the cliff,
and this I followed out over the sea toward the cliff's end.

Here the ledge inclined rapidly upward toward the top
of the cliffs--the stratum which formed it evidently having
been forced up at this steep angle when the mountains
behind it were born. As I climbed carefully up the ascent
my attention suddenly was attracted aloft by the sound
of strange hissing, and what resembled the flapping of wings.

And at the first glance there broke upon my horrified vision
the most frightful thing I had seen even within Pellucidar.
It was a giant dragon such as is pictured in the legends
and fairy tales of earth folk. Its huge body must have
measured forty feet in length, while the batlike wings
that supported it in midair had a spread of fully thirty.
Its gaping jaws were armed with long, sharp teeth,
and its claw equipped with horrible talons.

The hissing noise which had first attracted my attention
was issuing from its throat, and seemed to be directed
at something beyond and below me which I could not see.
The ledge upon which I stood terminated abruptly a few
paces farther on, and as I reached the end I saw the cause
of the reptile's agitation.

Some time in past ages an earthquake had produced a fault
at this point, so that beyond the spot where I stood
the strata had slipped down a matter of twenty feet.
The result was that the continuation of my ledge lay twenty
feet below me, where it ended as abruptly as did the end
upon which I stood.

And here, evidently halted in flight by this insurmountable
break in the ledge, stood the object of the creature's
attack--a girl cowering upon the narrow platform,
her face buried in her arms, as though to shut out the
sight of the frightful death which hovered just above her.

The dragon was circling lower, and seemed about to dart
in upon its prey. There was no time to be lost,
scarce an instant in which to weigh the possible
chances that I had against the awfully armed creature;
but the sight of that frightened girl below me called
out to all that was best in me, and the instinct for
protection of the other sex, which nearly must have
equaled the instinct of self-preservation in primeval man,
drew me to the girl's side like an irresistible magnet.

Almost thoughtless of the consequences, I leaped from
the end of the ledge upon which I stood, for the tiny
shelf twenty feet below. At the same instant the dragon
darted in toward the girl, but my sudden advent upon the
scene must have startled him for he veered to one side,
and then rose above us once more.

The noise I made as I landed beside her convinced the girl
that the end had come, for she thought I was the dragon;
but finally when no cruel fangs closed upon her she
raised her eyes in astonishment. As they fell upon me
the expression that came into them would be difficult
to describe; but her feelings could scarcely have been
one whit more complicated than my own--for the wide eyes
that looked into mine were those of Dian the Beautiful.

"Dian!" I cried. "Dian! Thank God that I came in time."

"You?" she whispered, and then she hid her face again;
nor could I tell whether she were glad or angry that I
had come.

Once more the dragon was sweeping toward us, and so rapidly
that I had no time to unsling my bow. All that I could
do was to snatch up a rock, and hurl it at the thing's
hideous face. Again my aim was true, and with a hiss
of pain and rage the reptile wheeled once more and soared away.

Quickly I fitted an arrow now that I might be ready
at the next attack, and as I did so I looked down at
the girl, so that I surprised her in a surreptitious
glance which she was stealing at me; but immediately,
she again covered her face with her hands.

"Look at me, Dian," I pleaded. "Are you not glad to see me?"

She looked straight into my eyes.

"I hate you," she said, and then, as I was about to beg
for a fair hearing she pointed over my shoulder.
"The thipdar comes," she said, and I turned again to meet
the reptile.

So this was a thipdar. I might have known it. The cruel
bloodhound of the Mahars. The long-extinct pterodactyl
of the outer world. But this time I met it with a weapon it
never had faced before. I had selected my longest arrow,
and with all my strength had bent the bow until the very
tip of the shaft rested upon the thumb of my left hand,
and then as the great creature darted toward us I let
drive straight for that tough breast.

Hissing like the escape valve of a steam engine,
the mighty creature fell turning and twisting into the
sea below, my arrow buried completely in its carcass.
I turned toward the girl. She was looking past me.
It was evident that she had seen the thipdar die.

"Dian," I said, "won't you tell me that you are not sorry
that I have found you?"

"I hate you," was her only reply; but I imagined
that there was less vehemence in it than before--yet
it might have been but my imagination.

"Why do you hate me, Dian?" I asked, but she did not
answer me.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, "and what has happened
to you since Hooja freed you from the Sagoths?"

At first I thought that she was going to ignore me entirely,
but finally she thought better of it.

"I was again running away from Jubal the Ugly One,"
she said. "After I escaped from the Sagoths I made my way
alone back to my own land; but on account of Jubal I did
not dare enter the villages or let any of my friends know
that I had returned for fear that Jubal might find out.
By watching for a long time I found that my brother
had not yet returned, and so I continued to live in a
cave beside a valley which my race seldom frequents,
awaiting the time that he should come back and free me
from Jubal.

"But at last one of Jubal's hunters saw me as I was creeping
toward my father's cave to see if my brother had yet
returned and he gave the alarm and Jubal set out after me.
He has been pursuing me across many lands. He cannot
be far behind me now. When he comes he will kill you
and carry me back to his cave. He is a terrible man.
I have gone as far as I can go, and there is no escape,"
and she looked hopelessly up at the continuation of the ledge
twenty feet above us.

"But he shall not have me," she suddenly cried,
with great vehemence. "The sea is there"--she pointed over
the edge of the cliff--"and the sea shall have me rather than
Jubal."

"But I have you now Dian," I cried; "nor shall Jubal,
nor any other have you, for you are mine," and I seized
her hand, nor did I lift it above her head and let it fall
in token of release.

She had risen to her feet, and was looking straight
into my eyes with level gaze.

"I do not believe you," she said, "for if you meant it
you would have done this when the others were present
to witness it--then I should truly have been your mate;
now there is no one to see you do it, for you know that
without witnesses your act does not bind you to me,"
and she withdrew her hand from mine and turned away.

I tried to convince her that I was sincere, but she
simply couldn't forget the humiliation that I had put
upon her on that other occasion.

"If you mean all that you say you will have ample chance to
prove it," she said, "if Jubal does not catch and kill you.
I am in your power, and the treatment you accord me
will be the best proof of your intentions toward me.
I am not your mate, and again I tell you that I hate you,
and that I should be glad if I never saw you again."

Dian certainly was candid. There was no gainsaying that.
In fact I found candor and directness to be quite
a marked characteristic of the cave men of Pellucidar.
Finally I suggested that we make some attempt to gain
my cave, where we might escape the searching Jubal,
for I am free to admit that I had no considerable desire
to meet the formidable and ferocious creature, of whose
mighty prowess Dian had told me when I first met her.
He it was who, armed with a puny knife, had met and killed
a cave bear in a hand-to-hand struggle. It was Jubal who
could cast his spear entirely through the armored carcass
of the sadok at fifty paces. It was he who had crushed
the skull of a charging dyryth with a single blow of his
war club. No, I was not pining to meet the Ugly One-and it
was quite certain that I should not go out and hunt for him;
but the matter was taken out of my hands very quickly,
as is often the way, and I did meet Jubal the Ugly One face
to face.

This is how it happened. I had led Dian back along
the ledge the way she had come, searching for a path
that would lead us to the top of the cliff, for I knew
that we could then cross over to the edge of my own
little valley, where I felt certain we should find a means
of ingress from the cliff top. As we proceeded along
the ledge I gave Dian minute directions for finding my
cave against the chance of something happening to me.
I knew that she would be quite safely hidden away
from pursuit once she gained the shelter of my lair,
and the valley would afford her ample means of sustenance.

Also, I was very much piqued by her treatment of me.
My heart was sad and heavy, and I wanted to make her feel
badly by suggesting that something terrible might happen
to me--that I might, in fact, be killed. But it didn't
work worth a cent, at least as far as I could perceive.
Dian simply shrugged those magnificent shoulders of hers,
and murmured something to the effect that one was not rid of
trouble so easily as that.

For a while I kept still. I was utterly squelched.
And to think that I had twice protected her from
attack--the last time risking my life to save hers.
It was incredible that even a daughter of the Stone Age
could be so ungrateful--so heartless; but maybe her heart
partook of the qualities of her epoch.

Presently we found a rift in the cliff which had been widened
and extended by the action of the water draining through it
from the plateau above. It gave us a rather rough climb
to the summit, but finally we stood upon the level mesa
which stretched back for several miles to the mountain range.
Behind us lay the broad inland sea, curving upward in the
horizonless distance to merge into the blue of the sky,
so that for all the world it looked as though the sea
lapped back to arch completely over us and disappear beyond
the distant mountains at our backs--the weird and uncanny
aspect of the seascapes of Pellucidar balk description.

At our right lay a dense forest, but to the left the country
was open and clear to the plateau's farther verge.
It was in this direction that our way led, and we had
turned to resume our journey when Dian touched my arm.
I turned to her, thinking that she was about to make
peace overtures; but I was mistaken.

"Jubal," she said, and nodded toward the forest.

I looked, and there, emerging from the dense wood,
came a perfect whale of a man. He must have been seven
feet tall, and proportioned accordingly. He still was
too far off to distinguish his features.

"Run," I said to Dian. "I can engage him until you get
a good start. Maybe I can hold him until you have gotten
entirely away," and then, without a backward glance,
I advanced to meet the Ugly One. I had hoped that Dian
would have a kind word to say to me before she went,
for she must have known that I was going to my death
for her sake; but she never even so much as bid me
good-bye, and it was with a heavy heart that I strode
through the flower-bespangled grass to my doom.

When I had come close enough to Jubal to distinguish
his features I understood how it was that he had earned
the sobriquet of Ugly One. Apparently some fearful
beast had ripped away one entire side of his face.
The eye was gone, the nose, and all the flesh, so that
his jaws and all his teeth were exposed and grinning
through the horrible scar.

Formerly he may have been as good to look upon as the others
of his handsome race, and it may be that the terrible
result of this encounter had tended to sour an already
strong and brutal character. However this may be it
is quite certain that he was not a pretty sight, and now
that his features, or what remained of them, were distorted
in rage at the sight of Dian with another male, he was
indeed most terrible to see--and much more terrible to meet.

He had broken into a run now, and as he advanced he
raised his mighty spear, while I halted and fitting
an arrow to my bow took as steady aim as I could.
I was somewhat longer than usual, for I must confess that
the sight of this awful man had wrought upon my nerves
to such an extent that my knees were anything but steady.
What chance had I against this mighty warrior for whom
even the fiercest cave bear had no terrors! Could I
hope to best one who slaughtered the sadok and dyryth
singlehanded! I shuddered; but, in fairness to myself,
my fear was more for Dian than for my own fate.

And then the great brute launched his massive stone-tipped
spear, and I raised my shield to break the force of its
terrific velocity. The impact hurled me to my knees,
but the shield had deflected the missile and I was unscathed.
Jubal was rushing upon me now with the only remaining
weapon that he carried--a murderous-looking knife.
He was too close for a careful bowshot, but I let drive
at him as he came, without taking aim. My arrow pierced
the fleshy part of his thigh, inflicting a painful
but not disabling wound. And then he was upon me.

My agility saved me for the instant. I ducked beneath
his raised arm, and when he wheeled to come at me again he
found a sword's point in his face. And a moment later he
felt an inch or two of it in the muscles of his knife arm,
so that thereafter he went more warily.

It was a duel of strategy now--the great, hairy man maneuvering
to get inside my guard where he could bring those giant
thews to play, while my wits were directed to the task
of keeping him at arm's length. Thrice he rushed me,
and thrice I caught his knife blow upon my shield.
Each time my sword found his body--once penetrating
to his lung. He was covered with blood by this time,
and the internal hemorrhage induced paroxysms of coughing
that brought the red stream through the hideous mouth
and nose, covering his face and breast with bloody froth.
He was a most unlovely spectacle, but he was far from dead.

As the duel continued I began to gain confidence, for,
to be perfectly candid, I had not expected to survive
the first rush of that monstrous engine of ungoverned
rage and hatred. And I think that Jubal, from utter
contempt of me, began to change to a feeling of respect,
and then in his primitive mind there evidently loomed
the thought that perhaps at last he had met his master,
and was facing his end.

At any rate it is only upon this hypothesis that I can
account for his next act, which was in the nature of a last
resort--a sort of forlorn hope, which could only have been
born of the belief that if he did not kill me quickly
I should kill him. It happened on the occasion of his
fourth charge, when, instead of striking at me with his knife,
he dropped that weapon, and seizing my sword blade in both
his hands wrenched the weapon from my grasp as easily as
from a babe.

Flinging it far to one side he stood motionless for just
an instant glaring into my face with such a horrid leer
of malignant triumph as to almost unnerve me--then he
sprang for me with his bare hands. But it was Jubal's
day to learn new methods of warfare. For the first time
he had seen a bow and arrows, never before that duel
had he beheld a sword, and now he learned what a man
who knows may do with his bare fists.

As he came for me, like a great bear, I ducked again
beneath his outstretched arm, and as I came up planted
as clean a blow upon his jaw as ever you have seen.
Down went that great mountain of flesh sprawling upon
the ground. He was so surprised and dazed that he lay there
for several seconds before he made any attempt to rise,
and I stood over him with another dose ready when he
should gain his knees.

Up he came at last, almost roaring in his rage and mortification;
but he didn't stay up--I let him have a left fair on the
point of the jaw that sent him tumbling over on his back.
By this time I think Jubal had gone mad with hate, for no sane
man would have come back for more as many times as he did.
Time after time I bowled him over as fast as he could
stagger up, until toward the last he lay longer on the
ground between blows, and each time came up weaker than before.

He was bleeding very profusely now from the wound in his lungs,
and presently a terrific blow over the heart sent him
reeling heavily to the ground, where he lay very still,
and somehow I knew at once that Jubal the Ugly One would
never get up again. But even as I looked upon that massive
body lying there so grim and terrible in death, I could
not believe that I, single-handed, had bested this slayer
of fearful beasts--this gigantic ogre of the Stone Age.

Picking up my sword I leaned upon it, looking down on
the dead body of my foeman, and as I thought of the battle
I had just fought and won a great idea was born in my
brain--the outcome of this and the suggestion that Perry
had made within the city of Phutra. If skill and science
could render a comparative pygmy the master of this
mighty brute, what could not the brute's fellows accomplish
with the same skill and science. Why all Pellucidar would
be at their feet--and I would be their king and Dian their queen.

Dian! A little wave of doubt swept over me. It was quite
within the possibilities of Dian to look down upon me even
were I king. She was quite the most superior person I
ever had met--with the most convincing way of letting you
know that she was superior. Well, I could go to the cave,
and tell her that I had killed Jubal, and then she
might feel more kindly toward me, since I had freed her
of her tormentor. I hoped that she had found the cave
easily--it would be terrible had I lost her again, and I
turned to gather up my shield and bow to hurry after her,
when to my astonishment I found her standing not ten paces
behind me.

"Girl!" I cried, "what are you doing here? I thought
that you had gone to the cave, as I told you to do."

Up went her head, and the look that she gave me took
all the majesty out of me, and left me feeling more
like the palace janitor--if palaces have janitors.

"As you told me to do!" she cried, stamping her little foot.
"I do as I please. I am the daughter of a king,
and furthermore, I hate you."

I was dumbfounded--this was my thanks for saving
her from Jubal! I turned and looked at the corpse.
"May be that I saved you from a worse fate, old man,"
I said, but I guess it was lost on Dian, for she never
seemed to notice it at all.

"Let us go to my cave," I said, "I am tired and hungry."

She followed along a pace behind me, neither of us speaking.
I was too angry, and she evidently didn't care to converse
with the lower orders. I was mad all the way through,
as I had certainly felt that at least a word of thanks should
have rewarded me, for I knew that even by her own standards,
I must have done a very wonderful thing to have killed
the redoubtable Jubal in a hand-to-hand encounter.

We had no difficulty in finding my lair, and then I went
down into the valley and bowled over a small antelope,
which I dragged up the steep ascent to the ledge before
the door. Here we ate in silence. Occasionally I glanced
at her, thinking that the sight of her tearing at raw
flesh with her hands and teeth like some wild animal
would cause a revulsion of my sentiments toward her;
but to my surprise I found that she ate quite as daintily
as the most civilized woman of my acquaintance, and finally
I found myself gazing in foolish rapture at the beauties
of her strong, white teeth. Such is love.

After our repast we went down to the river together
and bathed our hands and faces, and then after drinking
our fill went back to the cave. Without a word I crawled
into the farthest corner and, curling up, was soon asleep.

When I awoke I found Dian sitting in the doorway looking out
across the valley. As I came out she moved to one side to let
me pass, but she had no word for me. I wanted to hate her,
but I couldn't. Every time I looked at her something came
up in my throat, so that I nearly choked. I had never been
in love before, but I did not need any aid in diagnosing
my case--I certainly had it and had it bad. God, how I
loved that beautiful, disdainful, tantalizing, prehistoric girl!

After we had eaten again I asked Dian if she intended
returning to her tribe now that Jubal was dead, but she
shook her head sadly, and said that she did not dare,
for there was still Jubal's brother to be considered--his
oldest brother.

"What has he to do with it?" I asked. "Does he too want you,
or has the option on you become a family heirloom,
to be passed on down from generation to generation?"

She was not quite sure as to what I meant.

"It is probable," she said, "that they all will want revenge
for the death of Jubal--there are seven of them--seven
terrible men. Someone may have to kill them all,
if I am to return to my people."

It began to look as though I had assumed a contract much
too large for me--about seven sizes, in fact.

"Had Jubal any cousins?" I asked. It was just as well
to know the worst at once.

"Yes," replied Dian, "but they don't count--they all have mates.
Jubal's brothers have no mates because Jubal could get
none for himself. He was so ugly that women ran away
from him--some have even thrown themselves from the cliffs
of Amoz into the Darel Az rather than mate with the Ugly One."

"But what had that to do with his brothers?" I asked.

"I forget that you are not of Pellucidar," said Dian,
with a look of pity mixed with contempt, and the contempt
seemed to be laid on a little thicker than the circumstance
warranted--as though to make quite certain that I shouldn't
overlook it. "You see," she continued, "a younger brother
may not take a mate until all his older brothers have
done so, unless the older brother waives his prerogative,
which Jubal would not do, knowing that as long as he
kept them single they would be all the keener in aiding
him to secure a mate."

Noticing that Dian was becoming more communicative I
began to entertain hopes that she might be warming up
toward me a bit, although upon what slender thread
I hung my hopes I soon discovered.

"As you dare not return to Amoz," I ventured, "what is
to become of you since you cannot be happy here with me,
hating me as you do?"

"I shall have to put up with you," she replied coldly,
"until you see fit to go elsewhere and leave me in peace,
then I shall get along very well alone."

I looked at her in utter amazement. It seemed
incredible that even a prehistoric woman could
be so cold and heartless and ungrateful. Then I arose.

"I shall leave you NOW," I said haughtily, "I have had quite
enough of your ingratitude and your insults," and then I
turned and strode majestically down toward the valley.
I had taken a hundred steps in absolute silence, and then
Dian spoke.

"I hate you!" she shouted, and her voice broke--in rage,
I thought.

I was absolutely miserable, but I hadn't gone too far
when I began to realize that I couldn't leave her alone
there without protection, to hunt her own food amid
the dangers of that savage world. She might hate me,
and revile me, and heap indignity after indignity upon me,
as she already had, until I should have hated her;
but the pitiful fact remained that I loved her, and I
couldn't leave her there alone.

The more I thought about it the madder I got,
so that by the time I reached the valley I was furious,
and the result of it was that I turned right around
and went up that cliff again as fast as I had come down.
I saw that Dian had left the ledge and gone within the cave,
but I bolted right in after her. She was lying upon her
face on the pile of grasses I had gathered for her bed.
When she heard me enter she sprang to her feet like
a tigress.

"I hate you!" she cried.

Coming from the brilliant light of the noonday sun into
the semidarkness of the cave I could not see her features,
and I was rather glad, for I disliked to think of the hate
that I should have read there.

I never said a word to her at first. I just strode
across the cave and grasped her by the wrists, and when
she struggled, I put my arm around her so as to pinion her
hands to her sides. She fought like a tigress, but I took
my free hand and pushed her head back--I imagine that I
had suddenly turned brute, that I had gone back a thousand
million years, and was again a veritable cave man taking
my mate by force--and then I kissed that beautiful mouth
again and again.

"Dian," I cried, shaking her roughly, "I love you.
Can't you understand that I love you? That I love you
better than all else in this world or my own? That I am
going to have you? That love like mine cannot be denied?"

I noticed that she lay very still in my arms now,
and as my eyes became accustomed to the light I saw
that she was smiling--a very contented, happy smile.
I was thunderstruck. Then I realized that, very gently,
she was trying to disengage her arms, and I loosened my
grip upon them so that she could do so. Slowly they came
up and stole about my neck, and then she drew my lips down
to hers once more and held them there for a long time.
At last she spoke.

"Why didn't you do this at first, David? I have been
waiting so long."

"What!" I cried. "You said that you hated me!"

"Did you expect me to run into your arms, and say that I
loved you before I knew that you loved me?" she asked.

"But I have told you right along that I love you," I said.
"Love speaks in acts," she replied. "You could have made
your mouth say what you wished it to say, but just now
when you came and took me in your arms your heart spoke
to mine in the language that a woman's heart understands.
What a silly man you are, David?"

"Then you haven't hated me at all, Dian?" I asked.

"I have loved you always," she whispered, "from the
first moment that I saw you, although I did not know
it until that time you struck down Hooja the Sly One,
and then spurned me."

"But I didn't spurn you, dear," I cried. "I didn't know
your ways--I doubt if I do now. It seems incredible
that you could have reviled me so, and yet have cared
for me all the time."

"You might have known," she said, "when I did not run away
from you that it was not hate which chained me to you.
While you were battling with Jubal, I could have run
to the edge of the forest, and when I learned the outcome
of the combat it would have been a simple thing to have
eluded you and returned to my own people."

"But Jubal's brothers--and cousins--" I reminded her,
"how about them?"

She smiled, and hid her face on my shoulder.

"I had to tell you SOMETHING, David," she whispered.
"I must needs have SOME excuse for remaining near you."

"You little sinner!" I exclaimed. "And you have caused
me all this anguish for nothing!"

"I have suffered even more," she answered simply, "for I
thought that you did not love me, and I was helpless.
I couldn't come to you and demand that my love be returned,
as you have just come to me. Just now when you went away
hope went with you. I was wretched, terrified, miserable,
and my heart was breaking. I wept, and I have not done
that before since my mother died," and now I saw that there
was the moisture of tears about her eyes. It was near
to making me cry myself when I thought of all that poor
child had been through. Motherless and unprotected;
hunted across a savage, primeval world by that hideous
brute of a man; exposed to the attacks of the countless
fearsome denizens of its mountains, its plains, and its
jungles--it was a miracle that she had survived it all.

To me it was a revelation of the things my early forebears
must have endured that the human race of the outer
crust might survive. It made me very proud to think
that I had won the love of such a woman. Of course
she couldn't read or write; there was nothing cultured
or refined about her as you judge culture and refinement;
but she was the essence of all that is best in woman,
for she was good, and brave, and noble, and virtuous.
And she was all these things in spite of the fact
that their observance entailed suffering and danger
and possible death.

How much easier it would have been to have gone to Jubal
in the first place! She would have been his lawful mate.
She would have been queen in her own land--and it meant
just as much to the cave woman to be a queen in the Stone
Age as it does to the woman of today to be a queen now;
it's all comparative glory any way you look at it,
and if there were only half-naked savages on the outer
crust today, you'd find that it would be considerable glory
to be the wife a Dahomey chief.

I couldn't help but compare Dian's action with that
of a splendid young woman I had known in New York--I
mean splendid to look at and to talk to. She had been
head over heels in love with a chum of mine--a clean,
manly chap--but she had married a broken-down, disreputable
old debauchee because he was a count in some dinky
little European principality that was not even accorded
a distinctive color by Rand McNally.

Yes, I was mighty proud of Dian.

After a time we decided to set out for Sari, as I was anxious
to see Perry, and to know that all was right with him.
I had told Dian about our plan of emancipating the human
race of Pellucidar, and she was fairly wild over it.
She said that if Dacor, her brother, would only return he
could easily be king of Amoz, and that then he and Ghak
could form an alliance. That would give us a flying start,
for the Sarians and the Amozites were both very powerful tribes.
Once they had been armed with swords, and bows and arrows,
and trained in their use we were confident that they
could overcome any tribe that seemed disinclined to join
the great army of federated states with which we were
planning to march upon the Mahars.

I explained the various destructive engines of war
which Perry and I could construct after a little
experimentation--gunpowder, rifles, cannon, and the like,
and Dian would clap her hands, and throw her arms about my neck,
and tell me what a wonderful thing I was. She was beginning
to think that I was omnipotent although I really hadn't
done anything but talk--but that is the way with women
when they love. Perry used to say that if a fellow was
one-tenth as remarkable as his wife or mother thought him,
he would have the world by the tail with a down-hill drag.

The first time we started for Sari I stepped into a nest
of poisonous vipers before we reached the valley.
A little fellow stung me on the ankle, and Dian made me
come back to the cave. She said that I mustn't exercise,
or it might prove fatal--if it had been a full-grown
snake that struck me she said, I wouldn't have moved
a single pace from the nest--I'd have died in my tracks,
so virulent is the poison. As it was I must have been laid
up for quite a while, though Dian's poultices of herbs
and leaves finally reduced the swelling and drew out
the poison.

The episode proved most fortunate, however, as it gave
me an idea which added a thousand-fold to the value
of my arrows as missiles of offense and defense.
As soon as I was able to be about again, I sought out
some adult vipers of the species which had stung me,
and having killed them, I extracted their virus,
smearing it upon the tips of several arrows. Later I
shot a hyaenodon with one of these, and though my arrow
inflicted but a superficial flesh wound the beast
crumpled in death almost immediately after he was hit.

We now set out once more for the land of the Sarians,
and it was with feelings of sincere regret that we bade
good-bye to our beautiful Garden of Eden, in the comparative
peace and harmony of which we had lived the happiest moments
of our lives. How long we had been there I did not know,
for as I have told you, time had ceased to exist for me
beneath that eternal noonday sun--it may have been an hour,
or a month of earthly time; I do not know.

 

 

XV

BACK TO EARTH

 

WE CROSSED THE RIVER AND PASSED THROUGH THE mountains beyond,
and finally we came out upon a great level plain which
stretched away as far as the eye could reach. I cannot tell
you in what direction it stretched even if you would care
to know, for all the while that I was within Pellucidar
I never discovered any but local methods of indicating
direction--there is no north, no south, no east, no west.
UP is about the only direction which is well defined,
and that, of course, is DOWN to you of the outer crust.
Since the sun neither rises nor sets there is no method
of indicating direction beyond visible objects such as
high mountains, forests, lakes, and seas.

The plain which lies beyond the white cliffs which flank
the Darel Az upon the shore nearest the Mountains
of the Clouds is about as near to any direction as any
Pellucidarian can come. If you happen not to have heard
of the Darel Az, or the white cliffs, or the Mountains
of the Clouds you feel that there is something lacking,
and long for the good old understandable northeast
and southwest of the outer world.

We had barely entered the great plain when we discovered
two enormous animals approaching us from a great distance.
So far were they that we could not distinguish what manner
of beasts they might be, but as they came closer, I saw that
they were enormous quadrupeds, eighty or a hundred feet long,
with tiny heads perched at the top of very long necks.
Their heads must have been quite forty feet from the ground.
The beasts moved very slowly--that is their action was
slow--but their strides covered such a great distance
that in reality they traveled considerably faster than
a man walks.

As they drew still nearer we discovered that upon the back
of each sat a human being. Then Dian knew what they were,
though she never before had seen one.

"They are lidis from the land of the Thorians," she cried.
"Thoria lies at the outer verge of the Land of Awful Shadow.
The Thorians alone of all the races of Pellucidar ride
the lidi, for nowhere else than beside the dark country
are they found."

"What is the Land of Awful Shadow?" I asked.

"It is the land which lies beneath the Dead World,"
replied Dian; "the Dead World which hangs forever between
the sun and Pellucidar above the Land of Awful Shadow.
It is the Dead World which makes the great shadow upon this
portion of Pellucidar."

I did not fully understand what she meant, nor am I
sure that I do yet, for I have never been to that part
of Pellucidar from which the Dead World is visible;
but Perry says that it is the moon of Pellucidar--a tiny
planet within a planet--and that it revolves around
the earth's axis coincidently with the earth, and thus
is always above the same spot within Pellucidar.

I remember that Perry was very much excited when I told
him about this Dead World, for he seemed to think that it
explained the hitherto inexplicable phenomena of nutation
and the precession of the equinoxes.

When the two upon the lidis had come quite close to us
we saw that one was a man and the other a woman.
The former had held up his two hands, palms toward us,
in sign of peace, and I had answered him in kind,
when he suddenly gave a cry of astonishment and pleasure,
and slipping from his enormous mount ran forward toward Dian,
throwing his arms about her.

In an instant I was white with jealousy, but only for
an instant; since Dian quickly drew the man toward me,
telling him that I was David, her mate.

"And this is my brother, Dacor the Strong One, David,"
she said to me.

It appeared that the woman was Dacor's mate. He had
found none to his liking among the Sari, nor farther on
until he had come to the land of the Thoria, and there
he had found and fought for this very lovely Thorian
maiden whom he was bringing back to his own people.

When they had heard our story and our plans they decided
to accompany us to Sari, that Dacor and Ghak might come
to an agreement relative to an alliance, as Dacor was
quite as enthusiastic about the proposed annihilation
of the Mahars and Sagoths as either Dian or I.

After a journey which was, for Pellucidar, quite uneventful,
we came to the first of the Sarian villages which consists
of between one and two hundred artificial caves cut into
the face of a great cliff. Here to our immense delight,
we found both Perry and Ghak. The old man was quite
overcome at sight of me for he had long since given me
up as dead.

When I introduced Dian as my wife, he didn't quite know
what to say, but he afterward remarked that with the pick
of two worlds I could not have done better.

Ghak and Dacor reached a very amicable arrangement,
and it was at a council of the head men of the various
tribes of the Sari that the eventual form of government
was tentatively agreed upon. Roughly, the various
kingdoms were to remain virtually independent,
but there was to be one great overlord, or emperor.
It was decided that I should be the first of the dynasty
of the emperors of Pellucidar.

We set about teaching the women how to make bows and arrows,
and poison pouches. The young men hunted the vipers which
provided the virus, and it was they who mined the iron ore,
and fashioned the swords under Perry's direction.
Rapidly the fever spread from one tribe to another until
representatives from nations so far distant that the
Sarians had never even heard of them came in to take
the oath of allegiance which we required, and to learn
the art of making the new weapons and using them.

We sent our young men out as instructors to every
nation of the federation, and the movement had reached
colossal proportions before the Mahars discovered it.
The first intimation they had was when three of their great
slave caravans were annihilated in rapid succession.
They could not comprehend that the lower orders had suddenly
developed a power which rendered them really formidable.

In one of the skirmishes with slave caravans some of our
Sarians took a number of Sagoth prisoners, and among
them were two who had been members of the guards within
the building where we had been confined at Phutra.
They told us that the Mahars were frantic with rage
when they discovered what had taken place in the cellars
of the buildings. The Sagoths knew that something very
terrible had befallen their masters, but the Mahars had been
most careful to see that no inkling of the true nature
of their vital affliction reached beyond their own race.
How long it would take for the race to become extinct
it was impossible even to guess; but that this must
eventually happen seemed inevitable.

The Mahars had offered fabulous rewards for the capture
of any one of us alive, and at the same time had threatened
to inflict the direst punishment upon whomever should
harm us. The Sagoths could not understand these seemingly
paradoxical instructions, though their purpose was quite
evident to me. The Mahars wanted the Great Secret,
and they knew that we alone could deliver it to them.

Perry's experiments in the manufacture of gunpowder and the
fashioning of rifles had not progressed as rapidly as we
had hoped--there was a whole lot about these two arts which
Perry didn't know. We were both assured that the solution
of these problems would advance the cause of civilization
within Pellucidar thousands of years at a single stroke.
Then there were various other arts and sciences which we
wished to introduce, but our combined knowledge of them
did not embrace the mechanical details which alone
could render them of commercial, or practical value.

"David," said Perry, immediately after his latest failure to
produce gunpowder that would even burn, "one of us must return
to the outer world and bring back the information we lack.
Here we have all the labor and materials for reproducing
anything that ever has been produced above--what we lack
is knowledge. Let us go back and get that knowledge
in the shape of books--then this world will indeed be at our
feet."

And so it was decided that I should return in the prospector,
which still lay upon the edge of the forest at the point where
we had first penetrated to the surface of the inner world.
Dian would not listen to any arrangement for my going
which did not include her, and I was not sorry that she
wished to accompany me, for I wanted her to see my world,
and I wanted my world to see her.

With a large force of men we marched to the great iron mole,
which Perry soon had hoisted into position with its nose
pointed back toward the outer crust. He went over all
the machinery carefully. He replenished the air tanks,
and manufactured oil for the engine. At last everything
was ready, and we were about to set out when our pickets,
a long, thin line of which had surrounded our camp at
all times, reported that a great body of what appeared
to be Sagoths and Mahars were approaching from the direction
of Phutra.

Dian and I were ready to embark, but I was anxious
to witness the first clash between two fair-sized armies
of the opposing races of Pellucidar. I realized that this
was to mark the historic beginning of a mighty struggle
for possession of a world, and as the first emperor
of Pellucidar I felt that it was not alone my duty,
but my right, to be in the thick of that momentous struggle.

As the opposing army approached we saw that there were many
Mahars with the Sagoth troops--an indication of the vast
importance which the dominant race placed upon the outcome
of this campaign, for it was not customary with them to take
active part in the sorties which their creatures made for
slaves--the only form of warfare which they waged upon the
lower orders.

Ghak and Dacor were both with us, having come primarily to
view the prospector. I placed Ghak with some of his Sarians
on the right of our battle line. Dacor took the left,
while I commanded the center. Behind us I stationed
a sufficient reserve under one of Ghak's head men.
The Sagoths advanced steadily with menacing spears,
and I let them come until they were within easy bowshot
before I gave the word to fire.

At the first volley of poison-tipped arrows the front
ranks of the gorilla-men crumpled to the ground; but those
behind charged over the prostrate forms of their comrades
in a wild, mad rush to be upon us with their spears.
A second volley stopped them for an instant, and then
my reserve sprang through the openings in the firing line
to engage them with sword and shield. The clumsy spears
of the Sagoths were no match for the swords of the Sarian
and Amozite, who turned the spear thrusts aside with their
shields and leaped to close quarters with their lighter,
handier weapons.

Ghak took his archers along the enemy's flank, and while
the swordsmen engaged them in front, he poured volley after
volley into their unprotected left. The Mahars did little
real fighting, and were more in the way than otherwise,
though occasionally one of them would fasten its powerful
jaw upon the arm or leg of a Sarian.

The battle did not last a great while, for when Dacor
and I led our men in upon the Sagoth's right with naked
swords they were already so demoralized that they turned
and fled before us. We pursued them for some time,
taking many prisoners and recovering nearly a hundred slaves,
among whom was Hooja the Sly One.

He told me that he had been captured while on his way
to his own land; but that his life had been spared
in hope that through him the Mahars would learn the
whereabouts of their Great Secret. Ghak and I were
inclined to think that the Sly One had been guiding
this expedition to the land of Sari, where he thought
that the book might be found in Perry's possession;
but we had no proof of this and so we took him in and
treated him as one of us, although none liked him.
And how he rewarded my generosity you will presently learn.

There were a number of Mahars among our prisoners,
and so fearful were our own people of them that they
would not approach them unless completely covered
from the sight of the reptiles by a piece of skin.
Even Dian shared the popular superstition regarding
the evil effects of exposure to the eyes of angry Mahars,
and though I laughed at her fears I was willing enough
to humor them if it would relieve her apprehension
in any degree, and so she sat apart from the prospector,
near which the Mahars had been chained, while Perry and I
again inspected every portion of the mechanism.

At last I took my place in the driving seat, and called
to one of the men without to fetch Dian. It happened that
Hooja stood quite close to the doorway of the prospector,
so that it was he who, without my knowledge, went to
bring her; but how he succeeded in accomplishing the
fiendish thing he did, I cannot guess, unless there were
others in the plot to aid him. Nor can I believe that,
since all my people were loyal to me and would have made
short work of Hooja had he suggested the heartless scheme,
even had he had time to acquaint another with it.
It was all done so quickly that I may only believe that it
was the result of sudden impulse, aided by a number of,
to Hooja, fortuitous circumstances occurring at precisely
the right moment.

All I know is that it was Hooja who brought Dian
to the prospector, still wrapped from head to toe
in the skin of an enormous cave lion which covered her
since the Mahar prisoners had been brought into camp.
He deposited his burden in the seat beside me. I was all
ready to get under way. The good-byes had been said.
Perry had grasped my hand in the last, long farewell.
I closed and barred the outer and inner doors,
took my seat again at the driving mechanism, and pulled
the starting lever.

As before on that far-gone night that had witnessed our
first trial of the iron monster, there was a frightful
roaring beneath us--the giant frame trembled and vibrated--
there was a rush of sound as the loose earth passed up
through the hollow space between the inner and outer jackets
to be deposited in our wake. Once more the thing was off.

But on the instant of departure I was nearly thrown
from my seat by the sudden lurching of the prospector.
At first I did not realize what had happened, but presently
it dawned upon me that just before entering the crust the
towering body had fallen through its supporting scaffolding,
and that instead of entering the ground vertically we were
plunging into it at a different angle. Where it would bring
us out upon the upper crust I could not even conjecture.
And then I turned to note the effect of this strange
experience upon Dian. She still sat shrouded in the great skin.

"Come, come," I cried, laughing, "come out of your shell.
No Mahar eyes can reach you here," and I leaned over and
snatched the lion skin from her. And then I shrank back
upon my seat in utter horror.

The thing beneath the skin was not Dian--it was a
hideous Mahar. Instantly I realized the trick that Hooja
had played upon me, and the purpose of it. Rid of me,
forever as he doubtless thought, Dian would be at his mercy.
Frantically I tore at the steering wheel in an effort
to turn the prospector back toward Pellucidar; but, as on
that other occasion, I could not budge the thing a hair.

It is needless to recount the horrors or the monotony
of that journey. It varied but little from the former one
which had brought us from the outer to the inner world.
Because of the angle at which we had entered the ground
the trip required nearly a day longer, and brought me out
here upon the sand of the Sahara instead of in the United
States as I had hoped.

For months I have been waiting here for a white man to come.
I dared not leave the prospector for fear I should never
be able to find it again--the shifting sands of the desert
would soon cover it, and then my only hope of returning
to my Dian and her Pellucidar would be gone forever.

That I ever shall see her again seems but remotely possible,
for how may I know upon what part of Pellucidar my return
journey may terminate--and how, without a north or south
or an east or a west may I hope ever to find my way across
that vast world to the tiny spot where my lost love lies
grieving for me?

 

That is the story as David Innes told it to me in the
goat-skin tent upon the rim of the great Sahara Desert.
The next day he took me out to see the prospector--it
was precisely as he had described it. So huge was it
that it could have been brought to this inaccessible part
of the world by no means of transportation that existed
there--it could only have come in the way that David
Innes said it came--up through the crust of the earth
from the inner world of Pellucidar.

I spent a week with him, and then, abandoned my
lion hunt, returned directly to the coast and hurried
to London where I purchased a great quantity of stuff
which he wished to take back to Pellucidar with him.
There were books, rifles, revolvers, ammunition, cameras,
chemicals, telephones, telegraph instruments, wire,
tool and more books--books upon every subject under
the sun. He said he wanted a library with which they
could reproduce the wonders of the twentieth century
in the Stone Age and if quantity counts for anything
I got it for him.

I took the things back to Algeria myself, and accompanied
them to the end of the railroad; but from here I
was recalled to America upon important business.
However, I was able to employ a very trustworthy man
to take charge of the caravan--the same guide, in fact,
who had accompanied me on the previous trip into the
Sahara--and after writing a long letter to Innes in which
I gave him my American address, I saw the expedition head south.

Among the other things which I sent to Innes was over five
hundred miles of double, insulated wire of a very fine gauge.
I had it packed on a special reel at his suggestion, as it
was his idea that he could fasten one end here before he
left and by paying it out through the end of the prospector
lay a telegraph line between the outer and inner worlds.
In my letter I told him to be sure to mark the terminus
of the line very plainly with a high cairn, in case I
was not able to reach him before he set out, so that I
might easily find and communicate with him should he
be so fortunate as to reach Pellucidar.

I received several letters from him after I returned
to America--in fact he took advantage of every
northward-passing caravan to drop me word of some sort.
His last letter was written the day before he intended
to depart. Here it is.

 

MY DEAR FRIEND:

Tomorrow I shall set out in quest of Pellucidar and Dian.
That is if the Arabs don't get me. They have been very nasty
of late. I don't know the cause, but on two occasions they
have threatened my life. One, more friendly than the rest,
told me today that they intended attacking me tonight.
It would be unfortunate should anything of that sort happen
now that I am so nearly ready to depart.

However, maybe I will be as well off, for the nearer the
hour approaches, the slenderer my chances for success appear.

Here is the friendly Arab who is to take this letter north
for me, so good-bye, and God bless you for your kindness
to me.

The Arab tells me to hurry, for he sees a cloud of sand
to the south--he thinks it is the party coming to murder me,
and he doesn't want to be found with me. So goodbye again.

Yours,

DAVID INNES.

 

A year later found me at the end of the railroad
once more, headed for the spot where I had left Innes.
My first disappointment was when I discovered that my
old guide had died within a few weeks of my return,
nor could I find any member of my former party who could
lead me to the same spot.

For months I searched that scorching land, interviewing
countless desert sheiks in the hope that at last I might find
one who had heard of Innes and his wonderful iron mole.
Constantly my eyes scanned the blinding waste of sand
for the ricky cairn beneath which I was to find the wires
leading to Pellucidar--but always was I unsuccessful.

And always do these awful questions harass me when I
think of David Innes and his strange adventures.

Did the Arabs murder him, after all, just on the eve
of his departure? Or, did he again turn the nose of his
iron monster toward the inner world? Did he reach it,
or lies he somewhere buried in the heart of the great crust?
And if he did come again to Pellucidar was it to break
through into the bottom of one of her great island seas,
or among some savage race far, far from the land of his
heart's desire?

Does the answer lie somewhere upon the bosom of the
broad Sahara, at the end of two tiny wires, hidden beneath
a lost cairn? I wonder.

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