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A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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the impressions were strongly marked on the brain of each of the
four guardsmen. Their antagonist was a very tall man, wearing the
metal of one of your own guardsmen, and his fighting ability was
little short of marvelous for he fought fair against the entire four
and vanquished them by his surpassing skill and superhuman strength
and endurance. Though he wore the metal of Zodanga, my Jeddak, such
a man was never seen before in this or any other country upon
Barsoom.

"The mind of the Princess of Helium whom I have examined and
questioned was a blank to me, she has perfect control, and I could
not read one iota of it. She said that she witnessed a portion of
the encounter, and that when she looked there was but one man
engaged with the guardsmen; a man whom she did not recognize as
ever having seen."

"Where is my erstwhile savior?" spoke another of the party, and I
recognized the voice of the cousin of Than Kosis, whom I had rescued
from the green warriors. "By the metal of my first ancestor," he
went on, "but the description fits him to perfection, especially as
to his fighting ability."

"Where is this man?" cried Than Kosis. "Have him brought to me at
once. What know you of him, cousin? It seemed strange to me now
that I think upon it that there should have been such a fighting man
in Zodanga, of whose name, even, we were ignorant before today. And
his name too, John Carter, who ever heard of such a name upon
Barsoom!"

Word was soon brought that I was nowhere to be found, either in the
palace or at my former quarters in the barracks of the air-scout
squadron. Kantos Kan, they had found and questioned, but he knew
nothing of my whereabouts, and as to my past, he had told them he
knew as little, since he had but recently met me during our
captivity among the Warhoons.

"Keep your eyes on this other one," commanded Than Kosis. "He also
is a stranger and likely as not they both hail from Helium, and
where one is we shall sooner or later find the other. Quadruple
the air patrol, and let every man who leaves the city by air or
ground be subjected to the closest scrutiny."

Another messenger now entered with word that I was still within the
palace walls.

"The likeness of every person who has entered or left the palace
grounds today has been carefully examined," concluded the fellow,
"and not one approaches the likeness of this new padwar of the
guards, other than that which was recorded of him at the time he
entered."

"Then we will have him shortly," commented Than Kosis contentedly,
"and in the meanwhile we will repair to the apartments of the
Princess of Helium and question her in regard to the affair. She
may know more than she cared to divulge to you, Notan. Come."

They left the hall, and, as darkness had fallen without, I slipped
lightly from my hiding place and hastened to the balcony. Few were
in sight, and choosing a moment when none seemed near I sprang
quickly to the top of the glass wall and from there to the avenue
beyond the palace grounds.

CHAPTER XXIII

LOST IN THE SKY

Without effort at concealment I hastened to the vicinity of our
quarters, where I felt sure I should find Kantos Kan. As I neared
the building I became more careful, as I judged, and rightly, that
the place would be guarded. Several men in civilian metal loitered
near the front entrance and in the rear were others. My only means
of reaching, unseen, the upper story where our apartments were
situated was through an adjoining building, and after considerable
maneuvering I managed to attain the roof of a shop several doors
away.

Leaping from roof to roof, I soon reached an open window in the
building where I hoped to find the Heliumite, and in another moment
I stood in the room before him. He was alone and showed no surprise
at my coming, saying he had expected me much earlier, as my tour of
duty must have ended some time since.

I saw that he knew nothing of the events of the day at the palace,
and when I had enlightened him he was all excitement. The news that
Dejah Thoris had promised her hand to Sab Than filled him with
dismay.

"It cannot be," he exclaimed. "It is impossible! Why no man in all
Helium but would prefer death to the selling of our loved princess
to the ruling house of Zodanga. She must have lost her mind to have
assented to such an atrocious bargain. You, who do not know how we
of Helium love the members of our ruling house, cannot appreciate
the horror with which I contemplate such an unholy alliance."

"What can be done, John Carter?" he continued. "You are a
resourceful man. Can you not think of some way to save Helium from
this disgrace?"

"If I can come within sword's reach of Sab Than," I answered, "I can
solve the difficulty in so far as Helium is concerned, but for
personal reasons I would prefer that another struck the blow that
frees Dejah Thoris."

Kantos Kan eyed me narrowly before he spoke.

"You love her!" he said. "Does she know it?"

"She knows it, Kantos Kan, and repulses me only because she is
promised to Sab Than."

The splendid fellow sprang to his feet, and grasping me by the
shoulder raised his sword on high, exclaiming:

"And had the choice been left to me I could not have chosen a more
fitting mate for the first princess of Barsoom. Here is my hand
upon your shoulder, John Carter, and my word that Sab Than shall go
out at the point of my sword for the sake of my love for Helium, for
Dejah Thoris, and for you. This very night I shall try to reach his
quarters in the palace."

"How?" I asked. "You are strongly guarded and a quadruple force
patrols the sky."

He bent his head in thought a moment, then raised it with an air of
confidence.

"I only need to pass these guards and I can do it," he said at last.
"I know a secret entrance to the palace through the pinnacle of the
highest tower. I fell upon it by chance one day as I was passing
above the palace on patrol duty. In this work it is required that
we investigate any unusual occurrence we may witness, and a face
peering from the pinnacle of the high tower of the palace was, to
me, most unusual. I therefore drew near and discovered that the
possessor of the peering face was none other than Sab Than. He was
slightly put out at being detected and commanded me to keep the
matter to myself, explaining that the passage from the tower led
directly to his apartments, and was known only to him. If I can
reach the roof of the barracks and get my machine I can be in Sab
Than's quarters in five minutes; but how am I to escape from this
building, guarded as you say it is?"

"How well are the machine sheds at the barracks guarded?" I asked.

"There is usually but one man on duty there at night upon the roof."

"Go to the roof of this building, Kantos Kan, and wait me there."

Without stopping to explain my plans I retraced my way to the street
and hastened to the barracks. I did not dare to enter the building,
filled as it was with members of the air-scout squadron, who, in
common with all Zodanga, were on the lookout for me.

The building was an enormous one, rearing its lofty head fully a
thousand feet into the air. But few buildings in Zodanga were
higher than these barracks, though several topped it by a few
hundred feet; the docks of the great battleships of the line
standing some fifteen hundred feet from the ground, while the
freight and passenger stations of the merchant squadrons rose nearly
as high.

It was a long climb up the face of the building, and one fraught
with much danger, but there was no other way, and so I essayed the
task. The fact that Barsoomian architecture is extremely ornate
made the feat much simpler than I had anticipated, since I found
ornamental ledges and projections which fairly formed a perfect
ladder for me all the way to the eaves of the building. Here I met
my first real obstacle. The eaves projected nearly twenty feet from
the wall to which I clung, and though I encircled the great building
I could find no opening through them.

The top floor was alight, and filled with soldiers engaged in the
pastimes of their kind; I could not, therefore, reach the roof
through the building.

There was one slight, desperate chance, and that I decided I must
take--it was for Dejah Thoris, and no man has lived who would not
risk a thousand deaths for such as she.

Clinging to the wall with my feet and one hand, I unloosened one of
the long leather straps of my trappings at the end of which dangled
a great hook by which air sailors are hung to the sides and bottoms
of their craft for various purposes of repair, and by means of which
landing parties are lowered to the ground from the battleships.

I swung this hook cautiously to the roof several times before it
finally found lodgment; gently I pulled on it to strengthen its
hold, but whether it would bear the weight of my body I did not
know. It might be barely caught upon the very outer verge of the
roof, so that as my body swung out at the end of the strap it would
slip off and launch me to the pavement a thousand feet below.

An instant I hesitated, and then, releasing my grasp upon the
supporting ornament, I swung out into space at the end of the
strap. Far below me lay the brilliantly lighted streets, the hard
pavements, and death. There was a little jerk at the top of the
supporting eaves, and a nasty slipping, grating sound which turned
me cold with apprehension; then the hook caught and I was safe.

Clambering quickly aloft I grasped the edge of the eaves and drew
myself to the surface of the roof above. As I gained my feet I was
confronted by the sentry on duty, into the muzzle of whose revolver
I found myself looking.

"Who are you and whence came you?" he cried.

"I am an air scout, friend, and very near a dead one, for just by
the merest chance I escaped falling to the avenue below," I replied.

"But how came you upon the roof, man? No one has landed or come up
from the building for the past hour. Quick, explain yourself, or I
call the guard."

"Look you here, sentry, and you shall see how I came and how close a
shave I had to not coming at all," I answered, turning toward the
edge of the roof, where, twenty feet below, at the end of my strap,
hung all my weapons.

The fellow, acting on impulse of curiosity, stepped to my side and
to his undoing, for as he leaned to peer over the eaves I grasped
him by his throat and his pistol arm and threw him heavily to the
roof. The weapon dropped from his grasp, and my fingers choked off
his attempted cry for assistance. I gagged and bound him and then
hung him over the edge of the roof as I myself had hung a few
moments before. I knew it would be morning before he would be
discovered, and I needed all the time that I could gain.

Donning my trappings and weapons I hastened to the sheds, and soon
had out both my machine and Kantos Kan's. Making his fast behind
mine I started my engine, and skimming over the edge of the roof I
dove down into the streets of the city far below the plane usually
occupied by the air patrol. In less than a minute I was settling
safely upon the roof of our apartment beside the astonished Kantos
Kan.

I lost no time in explanation, but plunged immediately into a
discussion of our plans for the immediate future. It was decided
that I was to try to make Helium while Kantos Kan was to enter the
palace and dispatch Sab Than. If successful he was then to follow
me. He set my compass for me, a clever little device which will
remain steadfastly fixed upon any given point on the surface of
Barsoom, and bidding each other farewell we rose together and sped
in the direction of the palace which lay in the route which I must
take to reach Helium.

As we neared the high tower a patrol shot down from above, throwing
its piercing searchlight full upon my craft, and a voice roared out
a command to halt, following with a shot as I paid no attention to
his hail. Kantos Kan dropped quickly into the darkness, while I
rose steadily and at terrific speed raced through the Martian sky
followed by a dozen of the air-scout craft which had joined the
pursuit, and later by a swift cruiser carrying a hundred men and
a battery of rapid-fire guns. By twisting and turning my little
machine, now rising and now falling, I managed to elude their
search-lights most of the time, but I was also losing ground by
these tactics, and so I decided to hazard everything on a
straight-away course and leave the result to fate and the speed
of my machine.

Kantos Kan had shown me a trick of gearing, which is known only
to the navy of Helium, that greatly increased the speed of our
machines, so that I felt sure I could distance my pursuers if
I could dodge their projectiles for a few moments.

As I sped through the air the screeching of the bullets around me
convinced me that only by a miracle could I escape, but the die was
cast, and throwing on full speed I raced a straight course toward
Helium. Gradually I left my pursuers further and further behind,
and I was just congratulating myself on my lucky escape, when a
well-directed shot from the cruiser exploded at the prow of my
little craft. The concussion nearly capsized her, and with a
sickening plunge she hurtled downward through the dark night.

How far I fell before I regained control of the plane I do not know,
but I must have been very close to the ground when I started to rise
again, as I plainly heard the squealing of animals below me. Rising
again I scanned the heavens for my pursuers, and finally making out
their lights far behind me, saw that they were landing, evidently
in search of me.

Not until their lights were no longer discernible did I venture
to flash my little lamp upon my compass, and then I found to my
consternation that a fragment of the projectile had utterly
destroyed my only guide, as well as my speedometer. It was true
I could follow the stars in the general direction of Helium, but
without knowing the exact location of the city or the speed at
which I was traveling my chances for finding it were slim.

Helium lies a thousand miles southwest of Zodanga, and with my
compass intact I should have made the trip, barring accidents, in
between four and five hours. As it turned out, however, morning
found me speeding over a vast expanse of dead sea bottom after
nearly six hours of continuous flight at high speed. Presently a
great city showed below me, but it was not Helium, as that alone of
all Barsoomian metropolises consists in two immense circular walled
cities about seventy-five miles apart and would have been easily
distinguishable from the altitude at which I was flying.

Believing that I had come too far to the north and west, I turned
back in a southeasterly direction, passing during the forenoon
several other large cities, but none resembling the description
which Kantos Kan had given me of Helium. In addition to the
twin-city formation of Helium, another distinguishing feature is the
two immense towers, one of vivid scarlet rising nearly a mile into
the air from the center of one of the cities, while the other, of
bright yellow and of the same height, marks her sister.

CHAPTER XXIV

TARS TARKAS FINDS A FRIEND

About noon I passed low over a great dead city of ancient Mars, and
as I skimmed out across the plain beyond I came full upon several
thousand green warriors engaged in a terrific battle. Scarcely had
I seen them than a volley of shots was directed at me, and with the
almost unfailing accuracy of their aim my little craft was instantly
a ruined wreck, sinking erratically to the ground.

I fell almost directly in the center of the fierce combat, among
warriors who had not seen my approach so busily were they engaged
in life and death struggles. The men were fighting on foot with
long-swords, while an occasional shot from a sharpshooter on the
outskirts of the conflict would bring down a warrior who might
for an instant separate himself from the entangled mass.

As my machine sank among them I realized that it was fight or die,
with good chances of dying in any event, and so I struck the ground
with drawn long-sword ready to defend myself as I could.

I fell beside a huge monster who was engaged with three antagonists,
and as I glanced at his fierce face, filled with the light of
battle, I recognized Tars Tarkas the Thark. He did not see me, as I
was a trifle behind him, and just then the three warriors opposing
him, and whom I recognized as Warhoons, charged simultaneously. The
mighty fellow made quick work of one of them, but in stepping back
for another thrust he fell over a dead body behind him and was down
and at the mercy of his foes in an instant. Quick as lightning they
were upon him, and Tars Tarkas would have been gathered to his
fathers in short order had I not sprung before his prostrate form
and engaged his adversaries. I had accounted for one of them when
the mighty Thark regained his feet and quickly settled the other.

He gave me one look, and a slight smile touched his grim lip as,
touching my shoulder, he said,

"I would scarcely recognize you, John Carter, but there is no other
mortal upon Barsoom who would have done what you have for me. I
think I have learned that there is such a thing as friendship, my
friend."

He said no more, nor was there opportunity, for the Warhoons were
closing in about us, and together we fought, shoulder to shoulder,
during all that long, hot afternoon, until the tide of battle turned
and the remnant of the fierce Warhoon horde fell back upon their
thoats, and fled into the gathering darkness.

Ten thousand men had been engaged in that titanic struggle, and upon
the field of battle lay three thousand dead. Neither side asked or
gave quarter, nor did they attempt to take prisoners.

On our return to the city after the battle we had gone directly to
Tars Tarkas' quarters, where I was left alone while the chieftain
attended the customary council which immediately follows an
engagement.

As I sat awaiting the return of the green warrior I heard something
move in an adjoining apartment, and as I glanced up there rushed
suddenly upon me a huge and hideous creature which bore me backward
upon the pile of silks and furs upon which I had been reclining. It
was Woola--faithful, loving Woola. He had found his way back to
Thark and, as Tars Tarkas later told me, had gone immediately to my
former quarters where he had taken up his pathetic and seemingly
hopeless watch for my return.

"Tal Hajus knows that you are here, John Carter," said Tars Tarkas,
on his return from the jeddak's quarters; "Sarkoja saw and
recognized you as we were returning. Tal Hajus has ordered me to
bring you before him tonight. I have ten thoats, John Carter; you
may take your choice from among them, and I will accompany you to
the nearest waterway that leads to Helium. Tars Tarkas may be a
cruel green warrior, but he can be a friend as well. Come, we
must start."

"And when you return, Tars Tarkas?" I asked.

"The wild calots, possibly, or worse," he replied. "Unless I should
chance to have the opportunity I have so long waited of battling
with Tal Hajus."

"We will stay, Tars Tarkas, and see Tal Hajus tonight. You shall
not sacrifice yourself, and it may be that tonight you can have the
chance you wait."

He objected strenuously, saying that Tal Hajus often flew into wild
fits of passion at the mere thought of the blow I had dealt him, and
that if ever he laid his hands upon me I would be subjected to the
most horrible tortures.

While we were eating I repeated to Tars Tarkas the story which Sola
had told me that night upon the sea bottom during the march to
Thark.

He said but little, but the great muscles of his face worked in
passion and in agony at recollection of the horrors which had been
heaped upon the only thing he had ever loved in all his cold, cruel,
terrible existence.

He no longer demurred when I suggested that we go before Tal Hajus,
only saying that he would like to speak to Sarkoja first. At his
request I accompanied him to her quarters, and the look of venomous
hatred she cast upon me was almost adequate recompense for any
future misfortunes this accidental return to Thark might bring me.

"Sarkoja," said Tars Tarkas, "forty years ago you were instrumental
in bringing about the torture and death of a woman named Gozava.
I have just discovered that the warrior who loved that woman has
learned of your part in the transaction. He may not kill you,
Sarkoja, it is not our custom, but there is nothing to prevent him
tying one end of a strap about your neck and the other end to a wild
thoat, merely to test your fitness to survive and help perpetuate
our race. Having heard that he would do this on the morrow, I
thought it only right to warn you, for I am a just man. The river
Iss is but a short pilgrimage, Sarkoja. Come, John Carter."

The next morning Sarkoja was gone, nor was she ever seen after.

In silence we hastened to the jeddak's palace, where we were
immediately admitted to his presence; in fact, he could scarcely
wait to see me and was standing erect upon his platform glowering
at the entrance as I came in.

"Strap him to that pillar," he shrieked. "We shall see who it is
dares strike the mighty Tal Hajus. Heat the irons; with my own
hands I shall burn the eyes from his head that he may not pollute
my person with his vile gaze."

"Chieftains of Thark," I cried, turning to the assembled council and
ignoring Tal Hajus, "I have been a chief among you, and today I have
fought for Thark shoulder to shoulder with her greatest warrior.
You owe me, at least, a hearing. I have won that much today. You
claim to be just people--"

"Silence," roared Tal Hajus. "Gag the creature and bind him as I
command."

"Justice, Tal Hajus," exclaimed Lorquas Ptomel. "Who are you to set
aside the customs of ages among the Tharks."

"Yes, justice!" echoed a dozen voices, and so, while Tal Hajus fumed
and frothed, I continued.

"You are a brave people and you love bravery, but where was your
mighty jeddak during the fighting today? I did not see him in the
thick of battle; he was not there. He rends defenseless women and
little children in his lair, but how recently has one of you seen
him fight with men? Why, even I, a midget beside him, felled him
with a single blow of my fist. Is it of such that the Tharks
fashion their jeddaks? There stands beside me now a great Thark,
a mighty warrior and a noble man. Chieftains, how sounds, Tars
Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark?"

A roar of deep-toned applause greeted this suggestion.

"It but remains for this council to command, and Tal Hajus must
prove his fitness to rule. Were he a brave man he would invite Tars
Tarkas to combat, for he does not love him, but Tal Hajus is afraid;
Tal Hajus, your jeddak, is a coward. With my bare hands I could
kill him, and he knows it."

After I ceased there was tense silence, as all eyes were riveted
upon Tal Hajus. He did not speak or move, but the blotchy green of
his countenance turned livid, and the froth froze upon his lips.

"Tal Hajus," said Lorquas Ptomel in a cold, hard voice, "never in my
long life have I seen a jeddak of the Tharks so humiliated. There
could be but one answer to this arraignment. We wait it." And
still Tal Hajus stood as though electrified.

"Chieftains," continued Lorquas Ptomel, "shall the jeddak, Tal
Hajus, prove his fitness to rule over Tars Tarkas?"

There were twenty chieftains about the rostrum, and twenty swords
flashed high in assent.

There was no alternative. That decree was final, and so Tal Hajus
drew his long-sword and advanced to meet Tars Tarkas.

The combat was soon over, and, with his foot upon the neck of the
dead monster, Tars Tarkas became jeddak among the Tharks.

His first act was to make me a full-fledged chieftain with the rank
I had won by my combats the first few weeks of my captivity among
them.

Seeing the favorable disposition of the warriors toward Tars Tarkas,
as well as toward me, I grasped the opportunity to enlist them in
my cause against Zodanga. I told Tars Tarkas the story of my
adventures, and in a few words had explained to him the thought
I had in mind.

"John Carter has made a proposal," he said, addressing the council,
"which meets with my sanction. I shall put it to you briefly.
Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Helium, who was our prisoner, is now
held by the jeddak of Zodanga, whose son she must wed to save her
country from devastation at the hands of the Zodangan forces.

"John Carter suggests that we rescue her and return her to Helium.
The loot of Zodanga would be magnificent, and I have often thought
that had we an alliance with the people of Helium we could obtain
sufficient assurance of sustenance to permit us to increase the size
and frequency of our hatchings, and thus become unquestionably
supreme among the green men of all Barsoom. What say you?"

It was a chance to fight, an opportunity to loot, and they rose to
the bait as a speckled trout to a fly.

For Tharks they were wildly enthusiastic, and before another half
hour had passed twenty mounted messengers were speeding across dead
sea bottoms to call the hordes together for the expedition.

In three days we were on the march toward Zodanga, one hundred
thousand strong, as Tars Tarkas had been able to enlist the services
of three smaller hordes on the promise of the great loot of Zodanga.

At the head of the column I rode beside the great Thark while at the
heels of my mount trotted my beloved Woola.

We traveled entirely by night, timing our marches so that we camped
during the day at deserted cities where, even to the beasts, we
were all kept indoors during the daylight hours. On the march Tars
Tarkas, through his remarkable ability and statesmanship, enlisted
fifty thousand more warriors from various hordes, so that, ten days
after we set out we halted at midnight outside the great walled city
of Zodanga, one hundred and fifty thousand strong.

The fighting strength and efficiency of this horde of ferocious
green monsters was equivalent to ten times their number of red men.
Never in the history of Barsoom, Tars Tarkas told me, had such a
force of green warriors marched to battle together. It was a
monstrous task to keep even a semblance of harmony among them, and
it was a marvel to me that he got them to the city without a mighty
battle among themselves.

But as we neared Zodanga their personal quarrels were submerged
by their greater hatred for the red men, and especially for
the Zodangans, who had for years waged a ruthless campaign of
extermination against the green men, directing special attention
toward despoiling their incubators.

Now that we were before Zodanga the task of obtaining entry to the
city devolved upon me, and directing Tars Tarkas to hold his forces
in two divisions out of earshot of the city, with each division
opposite a large gateway, I took twenty dismounted warriors and
approached one of the small gates that pierced the walls at short
intervals. These gates have no regular guard, but are covered by
sentries, who patrol the avenue that encircles the city just
within the walls as our metropolitan police patrol their beats.

The walls of Zodanga are seventy-five feet in height and fifty feet
thick. They are built of enormous blocks of carborundum, and the
task of entering the city seemed, to my escort of green warriors, an
impossibility. The fellows who had been detailed to accompany me
were of one of the smaller hordes, and therefore did not know me.

Placing three of them with their faces to the wall and arms locked,
I commanded two more to mount to their shoulders, and a sixth I
ordered to climb upon the shoulders of the upper two. The head
of the topmost warrior towered over forty feet from the ground.

In this way, with ten warriors, I built a series of three steps from
the ground to the shoulders of the topmost man. Then starting from
a short distance behind them I ran swiftly up from one tier to the
next, and with a final bound from the broad shoulders of the highest
I clutched the top of the great wall and quietly drew myself to its
broad expanse. After me I dragged six lengths of leather from an
equal number of my warriors. These lengths we had previously
fastened together, and passing one end to the topmost warrior I
lowered the other end cautiously over the opposite side of the wall
toward the avenue below. No one was in sight, so, lowering myself
to the end of my leather strap, I dropped the remaining thirty feet
to the pavement below.

I had learned from Kantos Kan the secret of opening these gates,
and in another moment my twenty great fighting men stood within
the doomed city of Zodanga.

I found to my delight that I had entered at the lower boundary of
the enormous palace grounds. The building itself showed in the
distance a blaze of glorious light, and on the instant I determined
to lead a detachment of warriors directly within the palace itself,
while the balance of the great horde was attacking the barracks of
the soldiery.

Dispatching one of my men to Tars Tarkas for a detail of fifty
Tharks, with word of my intentions, I ordered ten warriors to
capture and open one of the great gates while with the nine
remaining I took the other. We were to do our work quietly, no
shots were to be fired and no general advance made until I had
reached the palace with my fifty Tharks. Our plans worked to
perfection. The two sentries we met were dispatched to their
fathers upon the banks of the lost sea of Korus, and the guards
at both gates followed them in silence.

CHAPTER XXV

THE LOOTING OF ZODANGA

As the great gate where I stood swung open my fifty Tharks, headed
by Tars Tarkas himself, rode in upon their mighty thoats. I led
them to the palace walls, which I negotiated easily without
assistance. Once inside, however, the gate gave me considerable
trouble, but I finally was rewarded by seeing it swing upon its
huge hinges, and soon my fierce escort was riding across the
gardens of the jeddak of Zodanga.

As we approached the palace I could see through the great windows of
the first floor into the brilliantly illuminated audience chamber
of Than Kosis. The immense hall was crowded with nobles and their
women, as though some important function was in progress. There was
not a guard in sight without the palace, due, I presume, to the fact
that the city and palace walls were considered impregnable, and so
I came close and peered within.

At one end of the chamber, upon massive golden thrones encrusted
with diamonds, sat Than Kosis and his consort, surrounded by
officers and dignitaries of state. Before them stretched a broad
aisle lined on either side with soldiery, and as I looked there
entered this aisle at the far end of the hall, the head of a
procession which advanced to the foot of the throne.

First there marched four officers of the jeddak's Guard bearing a
huge salver on which reposed, upon a cushion of scarlet silk, a
great golden chain with a collar and padlock at each end. Directly
behind these officers came four others carrying a similar salver
which supported the magnificent ornaments of a prince and princess
of the reigning house of Zodanga.

At the foot of the throne these two parties separated and halted,
facing each other at opposite sides of the aisle. Then came more
dignitaries, and the officers of the palace and of the army, and
finally two figures entirely muffled in scarlet silk, so that not
a feature of either was discernible. These two stopped at the
foot of the throne, facing Than Kosis. When the balance of the
procession had entered and assumed their stations Than Kosis
addressed the couple standing before him. I could not hear his
words, but presently two officers advanced and removed the scarlet
robe from one of the figures, and I saw that Kantos Kan had failed
in his mission, for it was Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga, who stood
revealed before me.

Than Kosis now took a set of the ornaments from one of the salvers
and placed one of the collars of gold about his son's neck,
springing the padlock fast. After a few more words addressed to
Sab Than he turned to the other figure, from which the officers
now removed the enshrouding silks, disclosing to my now
comprehending view Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium.

The object of the ceremony was clear to me; in another moment Dejah
Thoris would be joined forever to the Prince of Zodanga. It was an
impressive and beautiful ceremony, I presume, but to me it seemed
the most fiendish sight I had ever witnessed, and as the ornaments
were adjusted upon her beautiful figure and her collar of gold swung
open in the hands of Than Kosis I raised my long-sword above my
head, and, with the heavy hilt, I shattered the glass of the great
window and sprang into the midst of the astonished assemblage. With
a bound I was on the steps of the platform beside Than Kosis, and as
he stood riveted with surprise I brought my long-sword down upon the
golden chain that would have bound Dejah Thoris to another.

In an instant all was confusion; a thousand drawn swords menaced me
from every quarter, and Sab Than sprang upon me with a jeweled
dagger he had drawn from his nuptial ornaments. I could have killed
him as easily as I might a fly, but the age-old custom of Barsoom
stayed my hand, and grasping his wrist as the dagger flew toward my
heart I held him as though in a vise and with my long-sword pointed
to the far end of the hall.

"Zodanga has fallen," I cried. "Look!"

All eyes turned in the direction I had indicated, and there, forging
through the portals of the entranceway rode Tars Tarkas and his
fifty warriors on their great thoats.

A cry of alarm and amazement broke from the assemblage, but no word
of fear, and in a moment the soldiers and nobles of Zodanga were
hurling themselves upon the advancing Tharks.

Thrusting Sab Than headlong from the platform, I drew Dejah Thoris
to my side. Behind the throne was a narrow doorway and in this Than
Kosis now stood facing me, with drawn long-sword. In an instant we
were engaged, and I found no mean antagonist.

As we circled upon the broad platform I saw Sab Than rushing up the
steps to aid his father, but, as he raised his hand to strike, Dejah
Thoris sprang before him and then my sword found the spot that made
Sab Than jeddak of Zodanga. As his father rolled dead upon the
floor the new jeddak tore himself free from Dejah Thoris' grasp,
and again we faced each other. He was soon joined by a quartet of
officers, and, with my back against a golden throne, I fought once
again for Dejah Thoris. I was hard pressed to defend myself and yet
not strike down Sab Than and, with him, my last chance to win the
woman I loved. My blade was swinging with the rapidity of lightning
as I sought to parry the thrusts and cuts of my opponents. Two I
had disarmed, and one was down, when several more rushed to the aid
of their new ruler, and to avenge the death of the old.

As they advanced there were cries of "The woman! The woman!
Strike her down; it is her plot. Kill her! Kill her!"

Calling to Dejah Thoris to get behind me I worked my way toward the
little doorway back of the throne, but the officers realized my
intentions, and three of them sprang in behind me and blocked my
chances for gaining a position where I could have defended Dejah
Thoris against any army of swordsmen.

The Tharks were having their hands full in the center of the room,
and I began to realize that nothing short of a miracle could save
Dejah Thoris and myself, when I saw Tars Tarkas surging through the
crowd of pygmies that swarmed about him. With one swing of his
mighty longsword he laid a dozen corpses at his feet, and so he
hewed a pathway before him until in another moment he stood upon the
platform beside me, dealing death and destruction right and left.

The bravery of the Zodangans was awe-inspiring, not one attempted
to escape, and when the fighting ceased it was because only Tharks
remained alive in the great hall, other than Dejah Thoris and
myself.

Sab Than lay dead beside his father, and the corpses of the flower
of Zodangan nobility and chivalry covered the floor of the bloody
shambles.

My first thought when the battle was over was for Kantos Kan,
and leaving Dejah Thoris in charge of Tars Tarkas I took a dozen
warriors and hastened to the dungeons beneath the palace. The
jailers had all left to join the fighters in the throne room, so
we searched the labyrinthine prison without opposition.

I called Kantos Kan's name aloud in each new corridor and
compartment, and finally I was rewarded by hearing a faint response.
Guided by the sound, we soon found him helpless in a dark recess.

He was overjoyed at seeing me, and to know the meaning of the fight,
faint echoes of which had reached his prison cell. He told me that
the air patrol had captured him before he reached the high tower of
the palace, so that he had not even seen Sab Than.

We discovered that it would be futile to attempt to cut away the
bars and chains which held him prisoner, so, at his suggestion I
returned to search the bodies on the floor above for keys to open
the padlocks of his cell and of his chains.

Fortunately among the first I examined I found his jailer, and soon
we had Kantos Kan with us in the throne room.

The sounds of heavy firing, mingled with shouts and cries, came to
us from the city's streets, and Tars Tarkas hastened away to direct
the fighting without. Kantos Kan accompanied him to act as guide,
the green warriors commencing a thorough search of the palace for
other Zodangans and for loot, and Dejah Thoris and I were left
alone.

She had sunk into one of the golden thrones, and as I turned to her
she greeted me with a wan smile.

"Was there ever such a man!" she exclaimed. "I know that Barsoom
has never before seen your like. Can it be that all Earth men are
as you? Alone, a stranger, hunted, threatened, persecuted, you have
done in a few short months what in all the past ages of Barsoom no
man has ever done: joined together the wild hordes of the sea
bottoms and brought them to fight as allies of a red Martian
people."

"The answer is easy, Dejah Thoris," I replied smiling. "It was not
I who did it, it was love, love for Dejah Thoris, a power that would
work greater miracles than this you have seen."

A pretty flush overspread her face and she answered,

"You may say that now, John Carter, and I may listen, for I
am free."

"And more still I have to say, ere it is again too late," I
returned. "I have done many strange things in my life, many things
that wiser men would not have dared, but never in my wildest fancies
have I dreamed of winning a Dejah Thoris for myself--for never had I
dreamed that in all the universe dwelt such a woman as the Princess
of Helium. That you are a princess does not abash me, but that you
are you is enough to make me doubt my sanity as I ask you, my
princess, to be mine."

"He does not need to be abashed who so well knew the answer to his
plea before the plea were made," she replied, rising and placing her
dear hands upon my shoulders, and so I took her in my arms and
kissed her.

And thus in the midst of a city of wild conflict, filled with the
alarms of war; with death and destruction reaping their terrible
harvest around her, did Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, true
daughter of Mars, the God of War, promise herself in marriage to
John Carter, Gentleman of Virginia.

CHAPTER XXVI

THROUGH CARNAGE TO JOY

Sometime later Tars Tarkas and Kantos Kan returned to report that
Zodanga had been completely reduced. Her forces were entirely
destroyed or captured, and no further resistance was to be expected
from within. Several battleships had escaped, but there were
thousands of war and merchant vessels under guard of Thark warriors.

The lesser hordes had commenced looting and quarreling among
themselves, so it was decided that we collect what warriors we
could, man as many vessels as possible with Zodangan prisoners
and make for Helium without further loss of time.

Five hours later we sailed from the roofs of the dock buildings with
a fleet of two hundred and fifty battleships, carrying nearly one
hundred thousand green warriors, followed by a fleet of transports
with our thoats.

Behind us we left the stricken city in the fierce and brutal
clutches of some forty thousand green warriors of the lesser hordes.
They were looting, murdering, and fighting amongst themselves. In
a hundred places they had applied the torch, and columns of dense
smoke were rising above the city as though to blot out from the
eye of heaven the horrid sights beneath.

In the middle of the afternoon we sighted the scarlet and yellow
towers of Helium, and a short time later a great fleet of Zodangan
battleships rose from the camps of the besiegers without the city,
and advanced to meet us.

The banners of Helium had been strung from stem to stern of each
of our mighty craft, but the Zodangans did not need this sign to
realize that we were enemies, for our green Martian warriors had
opened fire upon them almost as they left the ground. With their
uncanny marksmanship they raked the on-coming fleet with volley
after volley.

The twin cities of Helium, perceiving that we were friends, sent out
hundreds of vessels to aid us, and then began the first real air
battle I had ever witnessed.

The vessels carrying our green warriors were kept circling above
the contending fleets of Helium and Zodanga, since their batteries
were useless in the hands of the Tharks who, having no navy, have
no skill in naval gunnery. Their small-arm fire, however, was
most effective, and the final outcome of the engagement was
strongly influenced, if not wholly determined, by their presence.

At first the two forces circled at the same altitude, pouring
broadside after broadside into each other. Presently a great hole
was torn in the hull of one of the immense battle craft from the
Zodangan camp; with a lurch she turned completely over, the little
figures of her crew plunging, turning and twisting toward the
ground a thousand feet below; then with sickening velocity she tore
after them, almost completely burying herself in the soft loam of
the ancient sea bottom.

A wild cry of exultation arose from the Heliumite squadron, and with
redoubled ferocity they fell upon the Zodangan fleet. By a pretty
maneuver two of the vessels of Helium gained a position above their
adversaries, from which they poured upon them from their keel bomb
batteries a perfect torrent of exploding bombs.

Then, one by one, the battleships of Helium succeeded in rising
above the Zodangans, and in a short time a number of the
beleaguering battleships were drifting hopeless wrecks toward the
high scarlet tower of greater Helium. Several others attempted
to escape, but they were soon surrounded by thousands of tiny
individual fliers, and above each hung a monster battleship of
Helium ready to drop boarding parties upon their decks.

Within but little more than an hour from the moment the victorious
Zodangan squadron had risen to meet us from the camp of the
besiegers the battle was over, and the remaining vessels of the
conquered Zodangans were headed toward the cities of Helium under
prize crews.

There was an extremely pathetic side to the surrender of these
mighty fliers, the result of an age-old custom which demanded that
surrender should be signalized by the voluntary plunging to earth of
the commander of the vanquished vessel. One after another the brave
fellows, holding their colors high above their heads, leaped from
the towering bows of their mighty craft to an awful death.

Not until the commander of the entire fleet took the fearful plunge,
thus indicating the surrender of the remaining vessels, did the
fighting cease, and the useless sacrifice of brave men come to an
end.

We now signaled the flagship of Helium's navy to approach, and
when she was within hailing distance I called out that we had the
Princess Dejah Thoris on board, and that we wished to transfer her
to the flagship that she might be taken immediately to the city.

As the full import of my announcement bore in upon them a great cry
arose from the decks of the flagship, and a moment later the colors
of the Princess of Helium broke from a hundred points upon her upper
works. When the other vessels of the squadron caught the meaning of
the signals flashed them they took up the wild acclaim and unfurled
her colors in the gleaming sunlight.

The flagship bore down upon us, and as she swung gracefully to and
touched our side a dozen officers sprang upon our decks. As their
astonished gaze fell upon the hundreds of green warriors, who now
came forth from the fighting shelters, they stopped aghast, but at
sight of Kantos Kan, who advanced to meet them, they came forward,
crowding about him.

Dejah Thoris and I then advanced, and they had no eyes for other
than her. She received them gracefully, calling each by name, for
they were men high in the esteem and service of her grandfather,
and she knew them well.

"Lay your hands upon the shoulder of John Carter," she said to them,
turning toward me, "the man to whom Helium owes her princess as well
as her victory today."

They were very courteous to me and said many kind and complimentary
things, but what seemed to impress them most was that I had won the
aid of the fierce Tharks in my campaign for the liberation of Dejah
Thoris, and the relief of Helium.

"You owe your thanks more to another man than to me," I said, "and
here he is; meet one of Barsoom's greatest soldiers and statesmen,
Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark."

With the same polished courtesy that had marked their manner toward
me they extended their greetings to the great Thark, nor, to my
surprise, was he much behind them in ease of bearing or in courtly
speech. Though not a garrulous race, the Tharks are extremely
formal, and their ways lend themselves amazingly well to dignified
and courtly manners.

Dejah Thoris went aboard the flagship, and was much put out that I
would not follow, but, as I explained to her, the battle was but
partly won; we still had the land forces of the besieging Zodangans
to account for, and I would not leave Tars Tarkas until that had
been accomplished.

The commander of the naval forces of Helium promised to arrange to
have the armies of Helium attack from the city in conjunction with
our land attack, and so the vessels separated and Dejah Thoris was
borne in triumph back to the court of her grandfather, Tardos Mors,
Jeddak of Helium.

In the distance lay our fleet of transports, with the thoats of the
green warriors, where they had remained during the battle. Without
landing stages it was to be a difficult matter to unload these
beasts upon the open plain, but there was nothing else for it, and
so we put out for a point about ten miles from the city and began
the task.

It was necessary to lower the animals to the ground in slings and
this work occupied the remainder of the day and half the night.
Twice we were attacked by parties of Zodangan cavalry, but with
little loss, however, and after darkness shut down they withdrew.

As soon as the last thoat was unloaded Tars Tarkas gave the command
to advance, and in three parties we crept upon the Zodangan camp
from the north, the south and the east.

About a mile from the main camp we encountered their outposts and,
as had been prearranged, accepted this as the signal to charge.
With wild, ferocious cries and amidst the nasty squealing of
battle-enraged thoats we bore down upon the Zodangans.

We did not catch them napping, but found a well-entrenched battle
line confronting us. Time after time we were repulsed until, toward
noon, I began to fear for the result of the battle.

The Zodangans numbered nearly a million fighting men, gathered
from pole to pole, wherever stretched their ribbon-like waterways,
while pitted against them were less than a hundred thousand green
warriors. The forces from Helium had not arrived, nor could we
receive any word from them.

Just at noon we heard heavy firing all along the line between the
Zodangans and the cities, and we knew then that our much-needed
reinforcements had come.

Again Tars Tarkas ordered the charge, and once more the mighty
thoats bore their terrible riders against the ramparts of the enemy.
At the same moment the battle line of Helium surged over the
opposite breastworks of the Zodangans and in another moment they
were being crushed as between two millstones. Nobly they fought,
but in vain.

The plain before the city became a veritable shambles ere the last
Zodangan surrendered, but finally the carnage ceased, the prisoners
were marched back to Helium, and we entered the greater city's
gates, a huge triumphal procession of conquering heroes.

The broad avenues were lined with women and children, among which
were the few men whose duties necessitated that they remain within
the city during the battle. We were greeted with an endless round
of applause and showered with ornaments of gold, platinum, silver,
and precious jewels. The city had gone mad with joy.

My fierce Tharks caused the wildest excitement and enthusiasm.
Never before had an armed body of green warriors entered the gates
of Helium, and that they came now as friends and allies filled the
red men with rejoicing.

That my poor services to Dejah Thoris had become known to the
Heliumites was evidenced by the loud crying of my name, and by the
loads of ornaments that were fastened upon me and my huge thoat as
we passed up the avenues to the palace, for even in the face of the
ferocious appearance of Woola the populace pressed close about me.

As we approached this magnificent pile we were met by a party of
officers who greeted us warmly and requested that Tars Tarkas and
his jeds with the jeddaks and jeds of his wild allies, together with
myself, dismount and accompany them to receive from Tardos Mors an
expression of his gratitude for our services.

At the top of the great steps leading up to the main portals of the
palace stood the royal party, and as we reached the lower steps one
of their number descended to meet us.

He was an almost perfect specimen of manhood; tall, straight as an
arrow, superbly muscled and with the carriage and bearing of a ruler
of men. I did not need to be told that he was Tardos Mors, Jeddak
of Helium.

The first member of our party he met was Tars Tarkas and his first
words sealed forever the new friendship between the races.

"That Tardos Mors," he said, earnestly, "may meet the greatest
living warrior of Barsoom is a priceless honor, but that he
may lay his hand on the shoulder of a friend and ally is a far
greater boon."

"Jeddak of Helium," returned Tars Tarkas, "it has remained for a man
of another world to teach the green warriors of Barsoom the meaning
of friendship; to him we owe the fact that the hordes of Thark can
understand you; that they can appreciate and reciprocate the
sentiments so graciously expressed."

Tardos Mors then greeted each of the green jeddaks and jeds, and to
each spoke words of friendship and appreciation.

As he approached me he laid both hands upon my shoulders.

"Welcome, my son," he said; "that you are granted, gladly, and
without one word of opposition, the most precious jewel in all
Helium, yes, on all Barsoom, is sufficient earnest of my esteem."

We were then presented to Mors Kajak, Jed of lesser Helium, and
father of Dejah Thoris. He had followed close behind Tardos Mors
and seemed even more affected by the meeting than had his father.

He tried a dozen times to express his gratitude to me, but his voice
choked with emotion and he could not speak, and yet he had, as I was
to later learn, a reputation for ferocity and fearlessness as a
fighter that was remarkable even upon warlike Barsoom. In common
with all Helium he worshiped his daughter, nor could he think of
what she had escaped without deep emotion.

CHAPTER XXVII

FROM JOY TO DEATH

For ten days the hordes of Thark and their wild allies were feasted
and entertained, and, then, loaded with costly presents and escorted
by ten thousand soldiers of Helium commanded by Mors Kajak, they
started on the return journey to their own lands. The jed of lesser
Helium with a small party of nobles accompanied them all the way to
Thark to cement more closely the new bonds of peace and friendship.

Sola also accompanied Tars Tarkas, her father, who before all his
chieftains had acknowledged her as his daughter.

Three weeks later, Mors Kajak and his officers, accompanied by Tars
Tarkas and Sola, returned upon a battleship that had been dispatched
to Thark to fetch them in time for the ceremony which made Dejah
Thoris and John Carter one.

For nine years I served in the councils and fought in the armies of
Helium as a prince of the house of Tardos Mors. The people seemed
never to tire of heaping honors upon me, and no day passed that
did not bring some new proof of their love for my princess, the
incomparable Dejah Thoris.

In a golden incubator upon the roof of our palace lay a snow-white
egg. For nearly five years ten soldiers of the jeddak's Guard had
constantly stood over it, and not a day passed when I was in the
city that Dejah Thoris and I did not stand hand in hand before our
little shrine planning for the future, when the delicate shell
should break.

Vivid in my memory is the picture of the last night as we sat there
talking in low tones of the strange romance which had woven our
lives together and of this wonder which was coming to augment our
happiness and fulfill our hopes.

In the distance we saw the bright-white light of an approaching
airship, but we attached no special significance to so common a
sight. Like a bolt of lightning it raced toward Helium until its
very speed bespoke the unusual.

Flashing the signals which proclaimed it a dispatch bearer for the
jeddak, it circled impatiently awaiting the tardy patrol boat which
must convoy it to the palace docks.

Ten minutes after it touched at the palace a message called me to
the council chamber, which I found filling with the members of that
body.

On the raised platform of the throne was Tardos Mors, pacing back
and forth with tense-drawn face. When all were in their seats he
turned toward us.

"This morning," he said, "word reached the several governments of
Barsoom that the keeper of the atmosphere plant had made no wireless
report for two days, nor had almost ceaseless calls upon him from a
score of capitals elicited a sign of response.

"The ambassadors of the other nations asked us to take the matter
in hand and hasten the assistant keeper to the plant. All day a
thousand cruisers have been searching for him until just now one
of them returns bearing his dead body, which was found in the pits
beneath his house horribly mutilated by some assassin.

"I do not need to tell you what this means to Barsoom. It would
take months to penetrate those mighty walls, in fact the work has
already commenced, and there would be little to fear were the engine
of the pumping plant to run as it should and as they all have for
hundreds of years now; but the worst, we fear, has happened. The
instruments show a rapidly decreasing air pressure on all parts of
Barsoom--the engine has stopped."

"My gentlemen," he concluded, "we have at best three days to live."

There was absolute silence for several minutes, and then a young
noble arose, and with his drawn sword held high above his head
addressed Tardos Mors.

"The men of Helium have prided themselves that they have ever shown
Barsoom how a nation of red men should live, now is our opportunity
to show them how they should die. Let us go about our duties as
though a thousand useful years still lay before us."

The chamber rang with applause and as there was nothing better to
do than to allay the fears of the people by our example we went our
ways with smiles upon our faces and sorrow gnawing at our hearts.

When I returned to my palace I found that the rumor already had
reached Dejah Thoris, so I told her all that I had heard.

"We have been very happy, John Carter," she said, "and I thank
whatever fate overtakes us that it permits us to die together."

The next two days brought no noticeable change in the supply of air,
but on the morning of the third day breathing became difficult at
the higher altitudes of the rooftops. The avenues and plazas of
Helium were filled with people. All business had ceased. For
the most part the people looked bravely into the face of their
unalterable doom. Here and there, however, men and women gave
way to quiet grief.

Toward the middle of the day many of the weaker commenced to succumb
and within an hour the people of Barsoom were sinking by thousands
into the unconsciousness which precedes death by asphyxiation.

Dejah Thoris and I with the other members of the royal family had
collected in a sunken garden within an inner courtyard of the
palace. We conversed in low tones, when we conversed at all, as
the awe of the grim shadow of death crept over us. Even Woola
seemed to feel the weight of the impending calamity, for he
pressed close to Dejah Thoris and to me, whining pitifully.

The little incubator had been brought from the roof of our palace
at request of Dejah Thoris and now she sat gazing longingly upon
the unknown little life that now she would never know.

As it was becoming perceptibly difficult to breathe Tardos Mors
arose, saying,

"Let us bid each other farewell. The days of the greatness of
Barsoom are over. Tomorrow's sun will look down upon a dead world
which through all eternity must go swinging through the heavens
peopled not even by memories. It is the end."

He stooped and kissed the women of his family, and laid his strong
hand upon the shoulders of the men.

As I turned sadly from him my eyes fell upon Dejah Thoris. Her head
was drooping upon her breast, to all appearances she was lifeless.
With a cry I sprang to her and raised her in my arms.

Her eyes opened and looked into mine.

"Kiss me, John Carter," she murmured. "I love you! I love you!
It is cruel that we must be torn apart who were just starting upon
a life of love and happiness."

As I pressed her dear lips to mine the old feeling of unconquerable
power and authority rose in me. The fighting blood of Virginia
sprang to life in my veins.

"It shall not be, my princess," I cried. "There is, there must be
some way, and John Carter, who has fought his way through a strange
world for love of you, will find it."

And with my words there crept above the threshold of my conscious
mind a series of nine long forgotten sounds. Like a flash of
lightning in the darkness their full purport dawned upon me--the
key to the three great doors of the atmosphere plant!

Turning suddenly toward Tardos Mors as I still clasped my dying love
to my breast I cried.

"A flier, Jeddak! Quick! Order your swiftest flier to the palace
top. I can save Barsoom yet."

He did not wait to question, but in an instant a guard was racing
to the nearest dock and though the air was thin and almost gone at
the rooftop they managed to launch the fastest one-man, air-scout
machine that the skill of Barsoom had ever produced.

Kissing Dejah Thoris a dozen times and commanding Woola, who would
have followed me, to remain and guard her, I bounded with my old
agility and strength to the high ramparts of the palace, and in
another moment I was headed toward the goal of the hopes of all
Barsoom.

I had to fly low to get sufficient air to breathe, but I took a
straight course across an old sea bottom and so had to rise only
a few feet above the ground.

I traveled with awful velocity for my errand was a race against time
with death. The face of Dejah Thoris hung always before me. As I
turned for a last look as I left the palace garden I had seen her
stagger and sink upon the ground beside the little incubator. That
she had dropped into the last coma which would end in death, if the
air supply remained unreplenished, I well knew, and so, throwing
caution to the winds, I flung overboard everything but the engine
and compass, even to my ornaments, and lying on my belly along the
deck with one hand on the steering wheel and the other pushing the
speed lever to its last notch I split the thin air of dying Mars
with the speed of a meteor.

An hour before dark the great walls of the atmosphere plant loomed
suddenly before me, and with a sickening thud I plunged to the
ground before the small door which was withholding the spark of
life from the inhabitants of an entire planet.

Beside the door a great crew of men had been laboring to pierce the
wall, but they had scarcely scratched the flint-like surface, and
now most of them lay in the last sleep from which not even air would
awaken them.

Conditions seemed much worse here than at Helium, and it was with
difficulty that I breathed at all. There were a few men still
conscious, and to one of these I spoke.

"If I can open these doors is there a man who can start the
engines?" I asked.

"I can," he replied, "if you open quickly. I can last but a few
moments more. But it is useless, they are both dead and no one else
upon Barsoom knew the secret of these awful locks. For three days
men crazed with fear have surged about this portal in vain attempts
to solve its mystery."

I had no time to talk, I was becoming very weak and it was with
difficulty that I controlled my mind at all.

But, with a final effort, as I sank weakly to my knees I hurled the
nine thought waves at that awful thing before me. The Martian had
crawled to my side and with staring eyes fixed on the single panel
before us we waited in the silence of death.

Slowly the mighty door receded before us. I attempted to rise and
follow it but I was too weak.

"After it," I cried to my companion, "and if you reach the pump room
turn loose all the pumps. It is the only chance Barsoom has to
exist tomorrow!"

From where I lay I opened the second door, and then the third, and
as I saw the hope of Barsoom crawling weakly on hands and knees
through the last doorway I sank unconscious upon the ground.

CHAPTER XXVIII

AT THE ARIZONA CAVE

It was dark when I opened my eyes again. Strange, stiff garments
were upon my body; garments that cracked and powdered away from me
as I rose to a sitting posture.

I felt myself over from head to foot and from head to foot I was
clothed, though when I fell unconscious at the little doorway I had
been naked. Before me was a small patch of moonlit sky which showed
through a ragged aperture.

As my hands passed over my body they came in contact with pockets
and in one of these a small parcel of matches wrapped in oiled
paper. One of these matches I struck, and its dim flame lighted
up what appeared to be a huge cave, toward the back of which I
discovered a strange, still figure huddled over a tiny bench. As
I approached it I saw that it was the dead and mummified remains
of a little old woman with long black hair, and the thing it
leaned over was a small charcoal burner upon which rested a round
copper vessel containing a small quantity of greenish powder.

Behind her, depending from the roof upon rawhide thongs, and
stretching entirely across the cave, was a row of human skeletons.
From the thong which held them stretched another to the dead hand
of the little old woman; as I touched the cord the skeletons swung
to the motion with a noise as of the rustling of dry leaves.

It was a most grotesque and horrid tableau and I hastened out
into the fresh air; glad to escape from so gruesome a place.

The sight that met my eyes as I stepped out upon a small ledge which
ran before the entrance of the cave filled me with consternation.

A new heaven and a new landscape met my gaze. The silvered
mountains in the distance, the almost stationary moon hanging in
the sky, the cacti-studded valley below me were not of Mars. I
could scarcely believe my eyes, but the truth slowly forced itself
upon me--I was looking upon Arizona from the same ledge from which
ten years before I had gazed with longing upon Mars.

Burying my head in my arms I turned, broken, and sorrowful, down the
trail from the cave.

Above me shone the red eye of Mars holding her awful secret,
forty-eight million miles away.

Did the Martian reach the pump room? Did the vitalizing air reach
the people of that distant planet in time to save them? Was my
Dejah Thoris alive, or did her beautiful body lie cold in death
beside the tiny golden incubator in the sunken garden of the inner
courtyard of the palace of Tardos Mors, the jeddak of Helium?

For ten years I have waited and prayed for an answer to my
questions. For ten years I have waited and prayed to be taken
back to the world of my lost love. I would rather lie dead beside
her there than live on Earth all those millions of terrible miles
from her.

The old mine, which I found untouched, has made me fabulously
wealthy; but what care I for wealth!

As I sit here tonight in my little study overlooking the Hudson,
just twenty years have elapsed since I first opened my eyes upon
Mars.

I can see her shining in the sky through the little window by my
desk, and tonight she seems calling to me again as she has not
called before since that long dead night, and I think I can see,
across that awful abyss of space, a beautiful black-haired woman
standing in the garden of a palace, and at her side is a little boy
who puts his arm around her as she points into the sky toward the
planet Earth, while at their feet is a huge and hideous creature
with a heart of gold.

I believe that they are waiting there for me, and something tells me
that I shall soon know.

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