At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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. Chapter One 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 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. Chapter Two 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
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–HYAENODON 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. Chapter Four 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. Chapter Five 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 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. Chapter Six 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
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, and 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 envelops Pellucidar, and with a smile I stepped forth
into the daylight. 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, landscape. 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
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. Chapter Nine 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. Chapter Ten 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, wherein 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 canyon,
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. Chapter Eleven 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. Chapter Twelve 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. Chapter Thirteen 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 as 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
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 nearby 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
of 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. Chapter Fifteen 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, abandoning
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, tools
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 good-bye 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 rocky 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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