Part 1 out of 5
THE GODS OF MARS
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Twelve years had passed since I had laid the body of my great-uncle,
Captain John Carter, of Virginia, away from the sight of men in
that strange mausoleum in the old cemetery at Richmond.
Often had I pondered on the odd instructions he had left me
governing the construction of his mighty tomb, and especially those
parts which directed that he be laid in an OPEN casket and that
the ponderous mechanism which controlled the bolts of the vault's
huge door be accessible ONLY FROM THE INSIDE.
Twelve years had passed since I had read the remarkable manuscript
of this remarkable man; this man who remembered no childhood and
who could not even offer a vague guess as to his age; who was always
young and yet who had dandled my grandfather's great-grandfather
upon his knee; this man who had spent ten years upon the planet
Mars; who had fought for the green men of Barsoom and fought against
them; who had fought for and against the red men and who had won
the ever beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, for his wife,
and for nearly ten years had been a prince of the house of Tardos
Mors, Jeddak of Helium.
Twelve years had passed since his body had been found upon the bluff
before his cottage overlooking the Hudson, and oft-times during
these long years I had wondered if John Carter were really dead,
or if he again roamed the dead sea bottoms of that dying planet; if
he had returned to Barsoom to find that he had opened the frowning
portals of the mighty atmosphere plant in time to save the countless
millions who were dying of asphyxiation on that far-gone day that
had seen him hurtled ruthlessly through forty-eight million miles
of space back to Earth once more. I had wondered if he had found
his black-haired Princess and the slender son he had dreamed was
with her in the royal gardens of Tardos Mors, awaiting his return.
Or, had he found that he had been too late, and thus gone back to
a living death upon a dead world? Or was he really dead after all,
never to return either to his mother Earth or his beloved Mars?
Thus was I lost in useless speculation one sultry August evening
when old Ben, my body servant, handed me a telegram. Tearing it
open I read:
'Meet me to-morrow hotel Raleigh Richmond.
Early the next morning I took the first train for Richmond and
within two hours was being ushered into the room occupied by John
As I entered he rose to greet me, his old-time cordial smile of
welcome lighting his handsome face. Apparently he had not aged a
minute, but was still the straight, clean-limbed fighting-man of
thirty. His keen grey eyes were undimmed, and the only lines upon
his face were the lines of iron character and determination that
always had been there since first I remembered him, nearly thirty-five
'Well, nephew,' he greeted me, 'do you feel as though you were
seeing a ghost, or suffering from the effects of too many of Uncle
'Juleps, I reckon,' I replied, 'for I certainly feel mighty good;
but maybe it's just the sight of you again that affects me. You
have been back to Mars? Tell me. And Dejah Thoris? You found
her well and awaiting you?'
'Yes, I have been to Barsoom again, and--but it's a long story,
too long to tell in the limited time I have before I must return.
I have learned the secret, nephew, and I may traverse the trackless
void at my will, coming and going between the countless planets as
I list; but my heart is always in Barsoom, and while it is there
in the keeping of my Martian Princess, I doubt that I shall ever
again leave the dying world that is my life.
'I have come now because my affection for you prompted me to see
you once more before you pass over for ever into that other life
that I shall never know, and which though I have died thrice and
shall die again to-night, as you know death, I am as unable to
fathom as are you.
'Even the wise and mysterious therns of Barsoom, that ancient cult
which for countless ages has been credited with holding the secret
of life and death in their impregnable fastnesses upon the hither
slopes of the Mountains of Otz, are as ignorant as we. I have
proved it, though I near lost my life in the doing of it; but you
shall read it all in the notes I have been making during the last
three months that I have been back upon Earth.'
He patted a swelling portfolio that lay on the table at his elbow.
'I know that you are interested and that you believe, and I know
that the world, too, is interested, though they will not believe
for many years; yes, for many ages, since they cannot understand.
Earth men have not yet progressed to a point where they can comprehend
the things that I have written in those notes.
'Give them what you wish of it, what you think will not harm them,
but do not feel aggrieved if they laugh at you.'
That night I walked down to the cemetery with him. At the door of
his vault he turned and pressed my hand.
'Good-bye, nephew,' he said. 'I may never see you again, for I
doubt that I can ever bring myself to leave my wife and boy while
they live, and the span of life upon Barsoom is often more than a
He entered the vault. The great door swung slowly to. The ponderous
bolts grated into place. The lock clicked. I have never seen
Captain John Carter, of Virginia, since.
But here is the story of his return to Mars on that other occasion,
as I have gleaned it from the great mass of notes which he left
for me upon the table of his room in the hotel at Richmond.
There is much which I have left out; much which I have not dared
to tell; but you will find the story of his second search for Dejah
Thoris, Princess of Helium, even more remarkable than was his first
manuscript which I gave to an unbelieving world a short time since
and through which we followed the fighting Virginian across dead
sea bottoms under the moons of Mars.
E. R. B.
I. The Plant Men
II. A Forest Battle
III. The Chamber of Mystery
V. Corridors of Peril
VI. The Black Pirates of Barsoom
VII. A Fair Goddess
VIII. The Depths of Omean
IX. Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal
X. The Prison Isle of Shador
XI. When Hell Broke Loose
XII. Doomed to Die
XIII. A Break for Liberty
XIV. The Eyes in the Dark
XV. Flight and Pursuit
XVI. Under Arrest
XVII. The Death Sentence
XVIII. Sola's Story
XIX. Black Despair
XX. The Air Battle
XXI. Through Flood and Flame
XXII. Victory and Defeat
THE PLANT MEN
As I stood upon the bluff before my cottage on that clear cold
night in the early part of March, 1886, the noble Hudson flowing
like the grey and silent spectre of a dead river below me, I felt
again the strange, compelling influence of the mighty god of war,
my beloved Mars, which for ten long and lonesome years I had implored
with outstretched arms to carry me back to my lost love.
Not since that other March night in 1866, when I had stood without
that Arizona cave in which my still and lifeless body lay wrapped
in the similitude of earthly death had I felt the irresistible
attraction of the god of my profession.
With arms outstretched toward the red eye of the great star I stood
praying for a return of that strange power which twice had drawn
me through the immensity of space, praying as I had prayed on a
thousand nights before during the long ten years that I had waited
Suddenly a qualm of nausea swept over me, my senses swam, my knees
gave beneath me and I pitched headlong to the ground upon the very
verge of the dizzy bluff.
Instantly my brain cleared and there swept back across the threshold
of my memory the vivid picture of the horrors of that ghostly
Arizona cave; again, as on that far-gone night, my muscles refused
to respond to my will and again, as though even here upon the banks
of the placid Hudson, I could hear the awful moans and rustling
of the fearsome thing which had lurked and threatened me from the
dark recesses of the cave, I made the same mighty and superhuman
effort to break the bonds of the strange anaesthesia which held me,
and again came the sharp click as of the sudden parting of a taut
wire, and I stood naked and free beside the staring, lifeless thing
that had so recently pulsed with the warm, red life-blood of John
With scarcely a parting glance I turned my eyes again toward Mars,
lifted my hands toward his lurid rays, and waited.
Nor did I have long to wait; for scarce had I turned ere I shot
with the rapidity of thought into the awful void before me. There
was the same instant of unthinkable cold and utter darkness that I
had experienced twenty years before, and then I opened my eyes in
another world, beneath the burning rays of a hot sun, which beat
through a tiny opening in the dome of the mighty forest in which
The scene that met my eyes was so un-Martian that my heart sprang
to my throat as the sudden fear swept through me that I had been
aimlessly tossed upon some strange planet by a cruel fate.
Why not? What guide had I through the trackless waste of
interplanetary space? What assurance that I might not as well be
hurtled to some far-distant star of another solar system, as to
I lay upon a close-cropped sward of red grasslike vegetation, and
about me stretched a grove of strange and beautiful trees, covered
with huge and gorgeous blossoms and filled with brilliant, voiceless
birds. I call them birds since they were winged, but mortal eye
ne'er rested on such odd, unearthly shapes.
The vegetation was similar to that which covers the lawns of the
red Martians of the great waterways, but the trees and birds were
unlike anything that I had ever seen upon Mars, and then through
the further trees I could see that most un-Martian of all sights--an
open sea, its blue waters shimmering beneath the brazen sun.
As I rose to investigate further I experienced the same ridiculous
catastrophe that had met my first attempt to walk under Martian
conditions. The lesser attraction of this smaller planet and the
reduced air pressure of its greatly rarefied atmosphere, afforded so
little resistance to my earthly muscles that the ordinary exertion
of the mere act of rising sent me several feet into the air and
precipitated me upon my face in the soft and brilliant grass of
this strange world.
This experience, however, gave me some slightly increased assurance
that, after all, I might indeed be in some, to me, unknown corner
of Mars, and this was very possible since during my ten years'
residence upon the planet I had explored but a comparatively tiny
area of its vast expanse.
I arose again, laughing at my forgetfulness, and soon had mastered
once more the art of attuning my earthly sinews to these changed
As I walked slowly down the imperceptible slope toward the sea I
could not help but note the park-like appearance of the sward and
trees. The grass was as close-cropped and carpet-like as some old
English lawn and the trees themselves showed evidence of careful
pruning to a uniform height of about fifteen feet from the ground,
so that as one turned his glance in any direction the forest had
the appearance at a little distance of a vast, high-ceiled chamber.
All these evidences of careful and systematic cultivation convinced
me that I had been fortunate enough to make my entry into Mars on
this second occasion through the domain of a civilized people and
that when I should find them I would be accorded the courtesy and
protection that my rank as a Prince of the house of Tardos Mors
entitled me to.
The trees of the forest attracted my deep admiration as I proceeded
toward the sea. Their great stems, some of them fully a hundred
feet in diameter, attested their prodigious height, which I could
only guess at, since at no point could I penetrate their dense
foliage above me to more than sixty or eighty feet.
As far aloft as I could see the stems and branches and twigs were
as smooth and as highly polished as the newest of American-made
pianos. The wood of some of the trees was as black as ebony, while
their nearest neighbours might perhaps gleam in the subdued light
of the forest as clear and white as the finest china, or, again,
they were azure, scarlet, yellow, or deepest purple.
And in the same way was the foliage as gay and variegated as the
stems, while the blooms that clustered thick upon them may not be
described in any earthly tongue, and indeed might challenge the
language of the gods.
As I neared the confines of the forest I beheld before me and
between the grove and the open sea, a broad expanse of meadow land,
and as I was about to emerge from the shadows of the trees a sight
met my eyes that banished all romantic and poetic reflection upon
the beauties of the strange landscape.
To my left the sea extended as far as the eye could reach, before
me only a vague, dim line indicated its further shore, while at my
right a mighty river, broad, placid, and majestic, flowed between
scarlet banks to empty into the quiet sea before me.
At a little distance up the river rose mighty perpendicular bluffs,
from the very base of which the great river seemed to rise.
But it was not these inspiring and magnificent evidences of Nature's
grandeur that took my immediate attention from the beauties of
the forest. It was the sight of a score of figures moving slowly
about the meadow near the bank of the mighty river.
Odd, grotesque shapes they were; unlike anything that I had ever
seen upon Mars, and yet, at a distance, most manlike in appearance.
The larger specimens appeared to be about ten or twelve feet in
height when they stood erect, and to be proportioned as to torso
and lower extremities precisely as is earthly man.
Their arms, however, were very short, and from where I stood seemed
as though fashioned much after the manner of an elephant's trunk,
in that they moved in sinuous and snakelike undulations, as though
entirely without bony structure, or if there were bones it seemed
that they must be vertebral in nature.
As I watched them from behind the stem of a huge tree, one of the
creatures moved slowly in my direction, engaged in the occupation
that seemed to be the principal business of each of them, and which
consisted in running their oddly shaped hands over the surface of
the sward, for what purpose I could not determine.
As he approached quite close to me I obtained an excellent view of
him, and though I was later to become better acquainted with his
kind, I may say that that single cursory examination of this awful
travesty on Nature would have proved quite sufficient to my desires
had I been a free agent. The fastest flier of the Heliumetic Navy
could not quickly enough have carried me far from this hideous
Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a
broad band of white which encircled its protruding, single eye: an
eye that was all dead white--pupil, iris, and ball.
Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of
its blank face; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I
could think of other than a fresh bullet wound which has not yet
commenced to bleed.
Below this repulsive orifice the face was quite blank to the chin,
for the thing had no mouth that I could discover.
The head, with the exception of the face, was covered by a tangled
mass of jet-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each
hair was about the bigness of a large angleworm, and as the thing
moved the muscles of its scalp this awful head-covering seemed
to writhe and wriggle and crawl about the fearsome face as though
indeed each separate hair was endowed with independent life.
The body and the legs were as symmetrically human as Nature could
have fashioned them, and the feet, too, were human in shape, but
of monstrous proportions. From heel to toe they were fully three
feet long, and very flat and very broad.
As it came quite close to me I discovered that its strange movements,
running its odd hands over the surface of the turf, were the result
of its peculiar method of feeding, which consists in cropping off
the tender vegetation with its razorlike talons and sucking it up
from its two mouths, which lie one in the palm of each hand, through
its arm-like throats.
In addition to the features which I have already described, the
beast was equipped with a massive tail about six feet in length,
quite round where it joined the body, but tapering to a flat, thin
blade toward the end, which trailed at right angles to the ground.
By far the most remarkable feature of this most remarkable creature,
however, were the two tiny replicas of it, each about six inches
in length, which dangled, one on either side, from its armpits.
They were suspended by a small stem which seemed to grow from the
exact tops of their heads to where it connected them with the body
of the adult.
Whether they were the young, or merely portions of a composite
creature, I did not know.
As I had been scrutinizing this weird monstrosity the balance of
the herd had fed quite close to me and I now saw that while many
had the smaller specimens dangling from them, not all were thus
equipped, and I further noted that the little ones varied in size
from what appeared to be but tiny unopened buds an inch in diameter
through various stages of development to the full-fledged and
perfectly formed creature of ten to twelve inches in length.
Feeding with the herd were many of the little fellows not much larger
than those which remained attached to their parents, and from the
young of that size the herd graded up to the immense adults.
Fearsome-looking as they were, I did not know whether to fear them
or not, for they did not seem to be particularly well equipped for
fighting, and I was on the point of stepping from my hiding-place
and revealing myself to them to note the effect upon them of the
sight of a man when my rash resolve was, fortunately for me, nipped
in the bud by a strange shrieking wail, which seemed to come from
the direction of the bluffs at my right.
Naked and unarmed, as I was, my end would have been both speedy
and horrible at the hands of these cruel creatures had I had time
to put my resolve into execution, but at the moment of the shriek
each member of the herd turned in the direction from which the sound
seemed to come, and at the same instant every particular snake-like
hair upon their heads rose stiffly perpendicular as if each had been
a sentient organism looking or listening for the source or meaning
of the wail. And indeed the latter proved to be the truth, for
this strange growth upon the craniums of the plant men of Barsoom
represents the thousand ears of these hideous creatures, the last
remnant of the strange race which sprang from the original Tree of
Instantly every eye turned toward one member of the herd, a large
fellow who evidently was the leader. A strange purring sound
issued from the mouth in the palm of one of his hands, and at the
same time he started rapidly toward the bluff, followed by the
Their speed and method of locomotion were both remarkable, springing
as they did in great leaps of twenty or thirty feet, much after
the manner of a kangaroo.
They were rapidly disappearing when it occurred to me to follow
them, and so, hurling caution to the winds, I sprang across the
meadow in their wake with leaps and bounds even more prodigious
than their own, for the muscles of an athletic Earth man produce
remarkable results when pitted against the lesser gravity and air
pressure of Mars.
Their way led directly towards the apparent source of the river at
the base of the cliffs, and as I neared this point I found the meadow
dotted with huge boulders that the ravages of time had evidently
dislodged from the towering crags above.
For this reason I came quite close to the cause of the disturbance
before the scene broke upon my horrified gaze. As I topped a great
boulder I saw the herd of plant men surrounding a little group of
perhaps five or six green men and women of Barsoom.
That I was indeed upon Mars I now had no doubt, for here were members
of the wild hordes that people the dead sea bottoms and deserted
cities of that dying planet.
Here were the great males towering in all the majesty of their
imposing height; here were the gleaming white tusks protruding
from their massive lower jaws to a point near the centre of their
foreheads, the laterally placed, protruding eyes with which they
could look forward or backward, or to either side without turning
their heads, here the strange antennae-like ears rising from the
tops of their foreheads; and the additional pair of arms extending
from midway between the shoulders and the hips.
Even without the glossy green hide and the metal ornaments which
denoted the tribes to which they belonged, I would have known
them on the instant for what they were, for where else in all the
universe is their like duplicated?
There were two men and four females in the party and their ornaments
denoted them as members of different hordes, a fact which tended
to puzzle me infinitely, since the various hordes of green men of
Barsoom are eternally at deadly war with one another, and never,
except on that single historic instance when the great Tars Tarkas
of Thark gathered a hundred and fifty thousand green warriors from
several hordes to march upon the doomed city of Zodanga to rescue
Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, from the clutches of Than Kosis,
had I seen green Martians of different hordes associated in other
than mortal combat.
But now they stood back to back, facing, in wide-eyed amazement,
the very evidently hostile demonstrations of a common enemy.
Both men and women were armed with long-swords and daggers, but no
firearms were in evidence, else it had been short shrift for the
gruesome plant men of Barsoom.
Presently the leader of the plant men charged the little party, and
his method of attack was as remarkable as it was effective, and by
its very strangeness was the more potent, since in the science of
the green warriors there was no defence for this singular manner
of attack, the like of which it soon was evident to me they were as
unfamiliar with as they were with the monstrosities which confronted
The plant man charged to within a dozen feet of the party and then,
with a bound, rose as though to pass directly above their heads.
His powerful tail was raised high to one side, and as he passed
close above them he brought it down in one terrific sweep that
crushed a green warrior's skull as though it had been an eggshell.
The balance of the frightful herd was now circling rapidly and
with bewildering speed about the little knot of victims. Their
prodigious bounds and the shrill, screeching purr of their uncanny
mouths were well calculated to confuse and terrorize their prey,
so that as two of them leaped simultaneously from either side, the
mighty sweep of those awful tails met with no resistance and two
more green Martians went down to an ignoble death.
There were now but one warrior and two females left, and it seemed
that it could be but a matter of seconds ere these, also, lay dead
upon the scarlet sward.
But as two more of the plant men charged, the warrior, who was
now prepared by the experiences of the past few minutes, swung his
mighty long-sword aloft and met the hurtling bulk with a clean cut
that clove one of the plant men from chin to groin.
The other, however, dealt a single blow with his cruel tail that
laid both of the females crushed corpses upon the ground.
As the green warrior saw the last of his companions go down and at
the same time perceived that the entire herd was charging him in
a body, he rushed boldly to meet them, swinging his long-sword in
the terrific manner that I had so often seen the men of his kind
wield it in their ferocious and almost continual warfare among
their own race.
Cutting and hewing to right and left, he laid an open path straight
through the advancing plant men, and then commenced a mad race
for the forest, in the shelter of which he evidently hoped that he
might find a haven of refuge.
He had turned for that portion of the forest which abutted on the
cliffs, and thus the mad race was taking the entire party farther
and farther from the boulder where I lay concealed.
As I had watched the noble fight which the great warrior had put
up against such enormous odds my heart had swelled in admiration
for him, and acting as I am wont to do, more upon impulse than after
mature deliberation, I instantly sprang from my sheltering rock
and bounded quickly toward the bodies of the dead green Martians,
a well-defined plan of action already formed.
Half a dozen great leaps brought me to the spot, and another instant
saw me again in my stride in quick pursuit of the hideous monsters
that were rapidly gaining on the fleeing warrior, but this time I
grasped a mighty long-sword in my hand and in my heart was the old
blood lust of the fighting man, and a red mist swam before my eyes
and I felt my lips respond to my heart in the old smile that has
ever marked me in the midst of the joy of battle.
Swift as I was I was none too soon, for the green warrior had been
overtaken ere he had made half the distance to the forest, and now
he stood with his back to a boulder, while the herd, temporarily
balked, hissed and screeched about him.
With their single eyes in the centre of their heads and every eye
turned upon their prey, they did not note my soundless approach,
so that I was upon them with my great long-sword and four of them
lay dead ere they knew that I was among them.
For an instant they recoiled before my terrific onslaught, and in
that instant the green warrior rose to the occasion and, springing
to my side, laid to the right and left of him as I had never seen
but one other warrior do, with great circling strokes that formed
a figure eight about him and that never stopped until none stood
living to oppose him, his keen blade passing through flesh and bone
and metal as though each had been alike thin air.
As we bent to the slaughter, far above us rose that shrill, weird
cry which I had heard once before, and which had called the herd
to the attack upon their victims. Again and again it rose, but we
were too much engaged with the fierce and powerful creatures about
us to attempt to search out even with our eyes the author of the
Great tails lashed in frenzied anger about us, razor-like talons
cut our limbs and bodies, and a green and sticky syrup, such as
oozes from a crushed caterpillar, smeared us from head to foot,
for every cut and thrust of our longswords brought spurts of this
stuff upon us from the severed arteries of the plant men, through
which it courses in its sluggish viscidity in lieu of blood.
Once I felt the great weight of one of the monsters upon my back
and as keen talons sank into my flesh I experienced the frightful
sensation of moist lips sucking the lifeblood from the wounds to
which the claws still clung.
I was very much engaged with a ferocious fellow who was endeavouring
to reach my throat from in front, while two more, one on either
side, were lashing viciously at me with their tails.
The green warrior was much put to it to hold his own, and I felt
that the unequal struggle could last but a moment longer when the
huge fellow discovered my plight, and tearing himself from those
that surrounded him, he raked the assailant from my back with a
single sweep of his blade, and thus relieved I had little difficulty
with the others.
Once together, we stood almost back to back against the great
boulder, and thus the creatures were prevented from soaring above
us to deliver their deadly blows, and as we were easily their match
while they remained upon the ground, we were making great headway
in dispatching what remained of them when our attention was again
attracted by the shrill wail of the caller above our heads.
This time I glanced up, and far above us upon a little natural
balcony on the face of the cliff stood a strange figure of a man
shrieking out his shrill signal, the while he waved one hand in
the direction of the river's mouth as though beckoning to some one
there, and with the other pointed and gesticulated toward us.
A glance in the direction toward which he was looking was sufficient
to apprise me of his aims and at the same time to fill me with the
dread of dire apprehension, for, streaming in from all directions
across the meadow, from out of the forest, and from the far distance
of the flat land across the river, I could see converging upon
us a hundred different lines of wildly leaping creatures such as
we were now engaged with, and with them some strange new monsters
which ran with great swiftness, now erect and now upon all fours.
"It will be a great death," I said to my companion. "Look!"
As he shot a quick glance in the direction I indicated he smiled.
"We may at least die fighting and as great warriors should, John
Carter," he replied.
We had just finished the last of our immediate antagonists as
he spoke, and I turned in surprised wonderment at the sound of my
And there before my astonished eyes I beheld the greatest of the
green men of Barsoom; their shrewdest statesman, their mightiest
general, my great and good friend, Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.
A FOREST BATTLE
Tars Tarkas and I found no time for an exchange of experiences as
we stood there before the great boulder surrounded by the corpses
of our grotesque assailants, for from all directions down the broad
valley was streaming a perfect torrent of terrifying creatures in
response to the weird call of the strange figure far above us.
"Come," cried Tars Tarkas, "we must make for the cliffs. There
lies our only hope of even temporary escape; there we may find a
cave or a narrow ledge which two may defend for ever against this
motley, unarmed horde."
Together we raced across the scarlet sward, I timing my speed that
I might not outdistance my slower companion. We had, perhaps,
three hundred yards to cover between our boulder and the cliffs,
and then to search out a suitable shelter for our stand against
the terrifying things that were pursuing us.
They were rapidly overhauling us when Tars Tarkas cried to me to
hasten ahead and discover, if possible, the sanctuary we sought.
The suggestion was a good one, for thus many valuable minutes might
be saved to us, and, throwing every ounce of my earthly muscles
into the effort, I cleared the remaining distance between myself
and the cliffs in great leaps and bounds that put me at their base
in a moment.
The cliffs rose perpendicular directly from the almost level sward
of the valley. There was no accumulation of fallen debris, forming
a more or less rough ascent to them, as is the case with nearly
all other cliffs I have ever seen. The scattered boulders that had
fallen from above and lay upon or partly buried in the turf, were
the only indication that any disintegration of the massive, towering
pile of rocks ever had taken place.
My first cursory inspection of the face of the cliffs filled my
heart with forebodings, since nowhere could I discern, except where
the weird herald stood still shrieking his shrill summons, the
faintest indication of even a bare foothold upon the lofty escarpment.
To my right the bottom of the cliff was lost in the dense foliage
of the forest, which terminated at its very foot, rearing its gorgeous
foliage fully a thousand feet against its stern and forbidding
To the left the cliff ran, apparently unbroken, across the head of
the broad valley, to be lost in the outlines of what appeared to
be a range of mighty mountains that skirted and confined the valley
in every direction.
Perhaps a thousand feet from me the river broke, as it seemed,
directly from the base of the cliffs, and as there seemed not the
remotest chance for escape in that direction I turned my attention
again toward the forest.
The cliffs towered above me a good five thousand feet. The sun
was not quite upon them and they loomed a dull yellow in their own
shade. Here and there they were broken with streaks and patches
of dusky red, green, and occasional areas of white quartz.
Altogether they were very beautiful, but I fear that I did not
regard them with a particularly appreciative eye on this, my first
inspection of them.
Just then I was absorbed in them only as a medium of escape, and
so, as my gaze ran quickly, time and again, over their vast expanse
in search of some cranny or crevice, I came suddenly to loathe them
as the prisoner must loathe the cruel and impregnable walls of his
Tars Tarkas was approaching me rapidly, and still more rapidly came
the awful horde at his heels.
It seemed the forest now or nothing, and I was just on the point of
motioning Tars Tarkas to follow me in that direction when the sun
passed the cliff's zenith, and as the bright rays touched the dull
surface it burst out into a million scintillant lights of burnished
gold, of flaming red, of soft greens, and gleaming whites--a more
gorgeous and inspiring spectacle human eye has never rested upon.
The face of the entire cliff was, as later inspection conclusively
proved, so shot with veins and patches of solid gold as to quite
present the appearance of a solid wall of that precious metal except
where it was broken by outcroppings of ruby, emerald, and diamond
boulders--a faint and alluring indication of the vast and unguessable
riches which lay deeply buried behind the magnificent surface.
But what caught my most interested attention at the moment that the
sun's rays set the cliff's face a-shimmer, was the several black
spots which now appeared quite plainly in evidence high across the
gorgeous wall close to the forest's top, and extending apparently
below and behind the branches.
Almost immediately I recognised them for what they were, the dark
openings of caves entering the solid walls--possible avenues of
escape or temporary shelter, could we but reach them.
There was but a single way, and that led through the mighty, towering
trees upon our right. That I could scale them I knew full well,
but Tars Tarkas, with his mighty bulk and enormous weight, would
find it a task possibly quite beyond his prowess or his skill, for
Martians are at best but poor climbers. Upon the entire surface
of that ancient planet I never before had seen a hill or mountain
that exceeded four thousand feet in height above the dead sea
bottoms, and as the ascent was usually gradual, nearly to their
summits they presented but few opportunities for the practice
of climbing. Nor would the Martians have embraced even such
opportunities as might present themselves, for they could always
find a circuitous route about the base of any eminence, and these
roads they preferred and followed in preference to the shorter but
more arduous ways.
However, there was nothing else to consider than an attempt to
scale the trees contiguous to the cliff in an effort to reach the
The Thark grasped the possibilities and the difficulties of the plan
at once, but there was no alternative, and so we set out rapidly
for the trees nearest the cliff.
Our relentless pursuers were now close to us, so close that it
seemed that it would be an utter impossibility for the Jeddak of
Thark to reach the forest in advance of them, nor was there any
considerable will in the efforts that Tars Tarkas made, for the
green men of Barsoom do not relish flight, nor ever before had I seen
one fleeing from death in whatsoever form it might have confronted
him. But that Tars Tarkas was the bravest of the brave he had
proven thousands of times; yes, tens of thousands in countless
mortal combats with men and beasts. And so I knew that there was
another reason than fear of death behind his flight, as he knew
that a greater power than pride or honour spurred me to escape
these fierce destroyers. In my case it was love--love of the divine
Dejah Thoris; and the cause of the Thark's great and sudden love
of life I could not fathom, for it is oftener that they seek death
than life--these strange, cruel, loveless, unhappy people.
At length, however, we reached the shadows of the forest, while
right behind us sprang the swiftest of our pursuers--a giant plant
man with claws outreaching to fasten his bloodsucking mouths upon
He was, I should say, a hundred yards in advance of his closest
companion, and so I called to Tars Tarkas to ascend a great tree
that brushed the cliff's face while I dispatched the fellow, thus
giving the less agile Thark an opportunity to reach the higher
branches before the entire horde should be upon us and every vestige
of escape cut off.
But I had reckoned without a just appreciation either of the cunning
of my immediate antagonist or the swiftness with which his fellows
were covering the distance which had separated them from me.
As I raised my long-sword to deal the creature its death thrust it
halted in its charge and, as my sword cut harmlessly through the
empty air, the great tail of the thing swept with the power of a
grizzly's arm across the sward and carried me bodily from my feet
to the ground. In an instant the brute was upon me, but ere it
could fasten its hideous mouths into my breast and throat I grasped
a writhing tentacle in either hand.
The plant man was well muscled, heavy, and powerful but my earthly
sinews and greater agility, in conjunction with the deathly strangle
hold I had upon him, would have given me, I think, an eventual
victory had we had time to discuss the merits of our relative prowess
uninterrupted. But as we strained and struggled about the tree
into which Tars Tarkas was clambering with infinite difficulty,
I suddenly caught a glimpse over the shoulder of my antagonist of
the great swarm of pursuers that now were fairly upon me.
Now, at last, I saw the nature of the other monsters who had come
with the plant men in response to the weird calling of the man
upon the cliff's face. They were that most dreaded of Martian
creatures--great white apes of Barsoom.
My former experiences upon Mars had familiarized me thoroughly with
them and their methods, and I may say that of all the fearsome and
terrible, weird and grotesque inhabitants of that strange world,
it is the white apes that come nearest to familiarizing me with
the sensation of fear.
I think that the cause of this feeling which these apes engender
within me is due to their remarkable resemblance in form to our
Earth men, which gives them a human appearance that is most uncanny
when coupled with their enormous size.
They stand fifteen feet in height and walk erect upon their hind
feet. Like the green Martians, they have an intermediary set of
arms midway between their upper and lower limbs. Their eyes are
very close set, but do not protrude as do those of the green men
of Mars; their ears are high set, but more laterally located than
are the green men's, while their snouts and teeth are much like
those of our African gorilla. Upon their heads grows an enormous
shock of bristly hair.
It was into the eyes of such as these and the terrible plant men
that I gazed above the shoulder of my foe, and then, in a mighty
wave of snarling, snapping, screaming, purring rage, they swept
over me--and of all the sounds that assailed my ears as I went down
beneath them, to me the most hideous was the horrid purring of the
Instantly a score of cruel fangs and keen talons were sunk into
my flesh; cold, sucking lips fastened themselves upon my arteries.
I struggled to free myself, and even though weighed down by these
immense bodies, I succeeded in struggling to my feet, where, still
grasping my long-sword, and shortening my grip upon it until I
could use it as a dagger, I wrought such havoc among them that at
one time I stood for an instant free.
What it has taken minutes to write occurred in but a few seconds,
but during that time Tars Tarkas had seen my plight and had dropped
from the lower branches, which he had reached with such infinite
labour, and as I flung the last of my immediate antagonists from
me the great Thark leaped to my side, and again we fought, back to
back, as we had done a hundred times before.
Time and again the ferocious apes sprang in to close with us, and
time and again we beat them back with our swords. The great tails
of the plant men lashed with tremendous power about us as they charged
from various directions or sprang with the agility of greyhounds
above our heads; but every attack met a gleaming blade in sword
hands that had been reputed for twenty years the best that Mars
ever had known; for Tars Tarkas and John Carter were names that
the fighting men of the world of warriors loved best to speak.
But even the two best swords in a world of fighters can avail not
for ever against overwhelming numbers of fierce and savage brutes
that know not what defeat means until cold steel teaches their hearts
no longer to beat, and so, step by step, we were forced back. At
length we stood against the giant tree that we had chosen for our
ascent, and then, as charge after charge hurled its weight upon
us, we gave back again and again, until we had been forced half-way
around the huge base of the colossal trunk.
Tars Tarkas was in the lead, and suddenly I heard a little cry of
exultation from him.
"Here is shelter for one at least, John Carter," he said, and,
glancing down, I saw an opening in the base of the tree about three
feet in diameter.
"In with you, Tars Tarkas," I cried, but he would not go; saying
that his bulk was too great for the little aperture, while I might
slip in easily.
"We shall both die if we remain without, John Carter; here is a
slight chance for one of us. Take it and you may live to avenge
me, it is useless for me to attempt to worm my way into so small
an opening with this horde of demons besetting us on all sides."
"Then we shall die together, Tars Tarkas," I replied, "for I shall
not go first. Let me defend the opening while you get in, then
my smaller stature will permit me to slip in with you before they
We still were fighting furiously as we talked in broken sentences,
punctured with vicious cuts and thrusts at our swarming enemy.
At length he yielded, for it seemed the only way in which either
of us might be saved from the ever-increasing numbers of our
assailants, who were still swarming upon us from all directions
across the broad valley.
"It was ever your way, John Carter, to think last of your own
life," he said; "but still more your way to command the lives and
actions of others, even to the greatest of Jeddaks who rule upon
There was a grim smile upon his cruel, hard face, as he, the greatest
Jeddak of them all, turned to obey the dictates of a creature of
another world--of a man whose stature was less than half his own.
"If you fail, John Carter," he said, "know that the cruel and
heartless Thark, to whom you taught the meaning of friendship, will
come out to die beside you."
"As you will, my friend," I replied; "but quickly now, head first,
while I cover your retreat."
He hesitated a little at that word, for never before in his whole
life of continual strife had he turned his back upon aught than a
dead or defeated enemy.
"Haste, Tars Tarkas," I urged, "or we shall both go down to profitless
defeat; I cannot hold them for ever alone."
As he dropped to the ground to force his way into the tree, the
whole howling pack of hideous devils hurled themselves upon me. To
right and left flew my shimmering blade, now green with the sticky
juice of a plant man, now red with the crimson blood of a great
white ape; but always flying from one opponent to another, hesitating
but the barest fraction of a second to drink the lifeblood in the
centre of some savage heart.
And thus I fought as I never had fought before, against such frightful
odds that I cannot realize even now that human muscles could have
withstood that awful onslaught, that terrific weight of hurtling
tons of ferocious, battling flesh.
With the fear that we would escape them, the creatures redoubled
their efforts to pull me down, and though the ground about me
was piled high with their dead and dying comrades, they succeeded
at last in overwhelming me, and I went down beneath them for the
second time that day, and once again felt those awful sucking lips
against my flesh.
But scarce had I fallen ere I felt powerful hands grip my ankles,
and in another second I was being drawn within the shelter of the
tree's interior. For a moment it was a tug of war between Tars
Tarkas and a great plant man, who clung tenaciously to my breast,
but presently I got the point of my long-sword beneath him and with
a mighty thrust pierced his vitals.
Torn and bleeding from many cruel wounds, I lay panting upon the
ground within the hollow of the tree, while Tars Tarkas defended
the opening from the furious mob without.
For an hour they howled about the tree, but after a few attempts
to reach us they confined their efforts to terrorizing shrieks and
screams, to horrid growling on the part of the great white apes,
and the fearsome and indescribable purring by the plant men.
At length, all but a score, who had apparently been left to prevent
our escape, had left us, and our adventure seemed destined to
result in a siege, the only outcome of which could be our death
by starvation; for even should we be able to slip out after dark,
whither in this unknown and hostile valley could we hope to turn
our steps toward possible escape?
As the attacks of our enemies ceased and our eyes became accustomed
to the semi-darkness of the interior of our strange retreat, I took
the opportunity to explore our shelter.
The tree was hollow to an extent of about fifty feet in diameter,
and from its flat, hard floor I judged that it had often been used to
domicile others before our occupancy. As I raised my eyes toward
its roof to note the height I saw far above me a faint glow of
There was an opening above. If we could but reach it we might
still hope to make the shelter of the cliff caves. My eyes had
now become quite used to the subdued light of the interior, and as
I pursued my investigation I presently came upon a rough ladder at
the far side of the cave.
Quickly I mounted it, only to find that it connected at the top
with the lower of a series of horizontal wooden bars that spanned
the now narrow and shaft-like interior of the tree's stem. These
bars were set one above another about three feet apart, and formed
a perfect ladder as far above me as I could see.
Dropping to the floor once more, I detailed my discovery to Tars
Tarkas, who suggested that I explore aloft as far as I could go in
safety while he guarded the entrance against a possible attack.
As I hastened above to explore the strange shaft I found that the
ladder of horizontal bars mounted always as far above me as my eyes
could reach, and as I ascended, the light from above grew brighter
For fully five hundred feet I continued to climb, until at length
I reached the opening in the stem which admitted the light. It
was of about the same diameter as the entrance at the foot of the
tree, and opened directly upon a large flat limb, the well worn
surface of which testified to its long continued use as an avenue
for some creature to and from this remarkable shaft.
I did not venture out upon the limb for fear that I might be
discovered and our retreat in this direction cut off; but instead
hurried to retrace my steps to Tars Tarkas.
I soon reached him and presently we were both ascending the long
ladder toward the opening above.
Tars Tarkas went in advance and as I reached the first of the
horizontal bars I drew the ladder up after me and, handing it to
him, he carried it a hundred feet further aloft, where he wedged
it safely between one of the bars and the side of the shaft. In
like manner I dislodged the lower bars as I passed them, so that
we soon had the interior of the tree denuded of all possible means
of ascent for a distance of a hundred feet from the base; thus
precluding possible pursuit and attack from the rear.
As we were to learn later, this precaution saved us from dire
predicament, and was eventually the means of our salvation.
When we reached the opening at the top Tars Tarkas drew to one
side that I might pass out and investigate, as, owing to my lesser
weight and greater agility, I was better fitted for the perilous
threading of this dizzy, hanging pathway.
The limb upon which I found myself ascended at a slight angle
toward the cliff, and as I followed it I found that it terminated
a few feet above a narrow ledge which protruded from the cliff's
face at the entrance to a narrow cave.
As I approached the slightly more slender extremity of the branch
it bent beneath my weight until, as I balanced perilously upon its
outer tip, it swayed gently on a level with the ledge at a distance
of a couple of feet.
Five hundred feet below me lay the vivid scarlet carpet of the valley;
nearly five thousand feet above towered the mighty, gleaming face
of the gorgeous cliffs.
The cave that I faced was not one of those that I had seen from the
ground, and which lay much higher, possibly a thousand feet. But
so far as I might know it was as good for our purpose as another,
and so I returned to the tree for Tars Tarkas.
Together we wormed our way along the waving pathway, but when we
reached the end of the branch we found that our combined weight so
depressed the limb that the cave's mouth was now too far above us
to be reached.
We finally agreed that Tars Tarkas should return along the branch,
leaving his longest leather harness strap with me, and that when
the limb had risen to a height that would permit me to enter the
cave I was to do so, and on Tars Tarkas' return I could then lower
the strap and haul him up to the safety of the ledge.
This we did without mishap and soon found ourselves together upon
the verge of a dizzy little balcony, with a magnificent view of
the valley spreading out below us.
As far as the eye could reach gorgeous forest and crimson sward
skirted a silent sea, and about all towered the brilliant monster
guardian cliffs. Once we thought we discerned a gilded minaret
gleaming in the sun amidst the waving tops of far-distant trees,
but we soon abandoned the idea in the belief that it was but an
hallucination born of our great desire to discover the haunts of
civilized men in this beautiful, yet forbidding, spot.
Below us upon the river's bank the great white apes were devouring
the last remnants of Tars Tarkas' former companions, while great
herds of plant men grazed in ever-widening circles about the sward
which they kept as close clipped as the smoothest of lawns.
Knowing that attack from the tree was now improbable, we determined
to explore the cave, which we had every reason to believe was but
a continuation of the path we had already traversed, leading the
gods alone knew where, but quite evidently away from this valley
of grim ferocity.
As we advanced we found a well-proportioned tunnel cut from the
solid cliff. Its walls rose some twenty feet above the floor,
which was about five feet in width. The roof was arched. We had
no means of making a light, and so groped our way slowly into the
ever-increasing darkness, Tars Tarkas keeping in touch with one
wall while I felt along the other, while, to prevent our wandering
into diverging branches and becoming separated or lost in some
intricate and labyrinthine maze, we clasped hands.
How far we traversed the tunnel in this manner I do not know,
but presently we came to an obstruction which blocked our further
progress. It seemed more like a partition than a sudden ending of
the cave, for it was constructed not of the material of the cliff,
but of something which felt like very hard wood.
Silently I groped over its surface with my hands, and presently
was rewarded by the feel of the button which as commonly denotes
a door on Mars as does a door knob on Earth.
Gently pressing it, I had the satisfaction of feeling the door slowly
give before me, and in another instant we were looking into a dimly
lighted apartment, which, so far as we could see, was unoccupied.
Without more ado I swung the door wide open and, followed by the
huge Thark, stepped into the chamber. As we stood for a moment in
silence gazing about the room a slight noise behind caused me to
turn quickly, when, to my astonishment, I saw the door close with
a sharp click as though by an unseen hand.
Instantly I sprang toward it to wrench it open again, for something
in the uncanny movement of the thing and the tense and almost
palpable silence of the chamber seemed to portend a lurking evil
lying hidden in this rock-bound chamber within the bowels of the
My fingers clawed futilely at the unyielding portal, while my eyes
sought in vain for a duplicate of the button which had given us
And then, from unseen lips, a cruel and mocking peal of laughter
rang through the desolate place.
THE CHAMBER OF MYSTERY
For moments after that awful laugh had ceased reverberating through
the rocky room, Tars Tarkas and I stood in tense and expectant
silence. But no further sound broke the stillness, nor within the
range of our vision did aught move.
At length Tars Tarkas laughed softly, after the manner of his
strange kind when in the presence of the horrible or terrifying.
It is not an hysterical laugh, but rather the genuine expression
of the pleasure they derive from the things that move Earth men to
loathing or to tears.
Often and again have I seen them roll upon the ground in mad fits
of uncontrollable mirth when witnessing the death agonies of women
and little children beneath the torture of that hellish green
Martian fete--the Great Games.
I looked up at the Thark, a smile upon my own lips, for here in
truth was greater need for a smiling face than a trembling chin.
"What do you make of it all?" I asked. "Where in the deuce are
He looked at me in surprise.
"Where are we?" he repeated. "Do you tell me, John Carter, that
you know not where you be?"
"That I am upon Barsoom is all that I can guess, and but for you and
the great white apes I should not even guess that, for the sights
I have seen this day are as unlike the things of my beloved Barsoom
as I knew it ten long years ago as they are unlike the world of my
"No, Tars Tarkas, I know not where we be."
"Where have you been since you opened the mighty portals of
the atmosphere plant years ago, after the keeper had died and the
engines stopped and all Barsoom was dying, that had not already
died, of asphyxiation? Your body even was never found, though the
men of a whole world sought after it for years, though the Jeddak
of Helium and his granddaughter, your princess, offered such fabulous
rewards that even princes of royal blood joined in the search.
"There was but one conclusion to reach when all efforts to locate
you had failed, and that, that you had taken the long, last pilgrimage
down the mysterious River Iss, to await in the Valley Dor upon the
shores of the Lost Sea of Korus the beautiful Dejah Thoris, your
"Why you had gone none could guess, for your princess still lived--"
"Thank God," I interrupted him. "I did not dare to ask you, for
I feared I might have been too late to save her--she was very low
when I left her in the royal gardens of Tardos Mors that long-gone
night; so very low that I scarcely hoped even then to reach the
atmosphere plant ere her dear spirit had fled from me for ever.
And she lives yet?"
"She lives, John Carter."
"You have not told me where we are," I reminded him.
"We are where I expected to find you, John Carter--and another.
Many years ago you heard the story of the woman who taught me the
thing that green Martians are reared to hate, the woman who taught
me to love. You know the cruel tortures and the awful death her
love won for her at the hands of the beast, Tal Hajus.
"She, I thought, awaited me by the Lost Sea of Korus.
"You know that it was left for a man from another world, for
yourself, John Carter, to teach this cruel Thark what friendship
is; and you, I thought, also roamed the care-free Valley Dor.
"Thus were the two I most longed for at the end of the long pilgrimage
I must take some day, and so as the time had elapsed which Dejah
Thoris had hoped might bring you once more to her side, for she
has always tried to believe that you had but temporarily returned
to your own planet, I at last gave way to my great yearning and a
month since I started upon the journey, the end of which you have
this day witnessed. Do you understand now where you be, John
"And that was the River Iss, emptying into the Lost Sea of Korus
in the Valley Dor?" I asked.
"This is the valley of love and peace and rest to which every
Barsoomian since time immemorial has longed to pilgrimage at the
end of a life of hate and strife and bloodshed," he replied. "This,
John Carter, is Heaven."
His tone was cold and ironical; its bitterness but reflecting
the terrible disappointment he had suffered. Such a fearful
disillusionment, such a blasting of life-long hopes and aspirations,
such an uprooting of age-old tradition might have excused a vastly
greater demonstration on the part of the Thark.
I laid my hand upon his shoulder.
"I am sorry," I said, nor did there seem aught else to say.
"Think, John Carter, of the countless billions of Barsoomians who
have taken the voluntary pilgrimage down this cruel river since
the beginning of time, only to fall into the ferocious clutches of
the terrible creatures that to-day assailed us.
"There is an ancient legend that once a red man returned from the
banks of the Lost Sea of Korus, returned from the Valley Dor, back
through the mysterious River Iss, and the legend has it that he
narrated a fearful blasphemy of horrid brutes that inhabited a valley
of wondrous loveliness, brutes that pounced upon each Barsoomian
as he terminated his pilgrimage and devoured him upon the banks
of the Lost Sea where he had looked to find love and peace and
happiness; but the ancients killed the blasphemer, as tradition
has ordained that any shall be killed who return from the bosom of
the River of Mystery.
"But now we know that it was no blasphemy, that the legend is a
true one, and that the man told only of what he saw; but what does
it profit us, John Carter, since even should we escape, we also
would be treated as blasphemers? We are between the wild thoat of
certainty and the mad zitidar of fact--we can escape neither."
"As Earth men say, we are between the devil and the deep sea, Tars
Tarkas," I replied, nor could I help but smile at our dilemma.
"There is naught that we can do but take things as they come,
and at least have the satisfaction of knowing that whoever slays
us eventually will have far greater numbers of their own dead to
count than they will get in return. White ape or plant man, green
Barsoomian or red man, whosoever it shall be that takes the last
toll from us will know that it is costly in lives to wipe out John
Carter, Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, and Tars Tarkas, Jeddak
of Thark, at the same time."
I could not help but laugh at him grim humour, and he joined in with
me in one of those rare laughs of real enjoyment which was one of
the attributes of this fierce Tharkian chief which marked him from
the others of his kind.
"But about yourself, John Carter," he cried at last. "If you have
not been here all these years where indeed have you been, and how
is it that I find you here to-day?"
"I have been back to Earth," I replied. "For ten long Earth years I
have been praying and hoping for the day that would carry me once
more to this grim old planet of yours, for which, with all its
cruel and terrible customs, I feel a bond of sympathy and love even
greater than for the world that gave me birth.
"For ten years have I been enduring a living death of uncertainty
and doubt as to whether Dejah Thoris lived, and now that for the
first time in all these years my prayers have been answered and my
doubt relieved I find myself, through a cruel whim of fate, hurled
into the one tiny spot of all Barsoom from which there is apparently
no escape, and if there were, at a price which would put out for
ever the last flickering hope which I may cling to of seeing my
princess again in this life--and you have seen to-day with what
pitiful futility man yearns toward a material hereafter.
"Only a bare half-hour before I saw you battling with the plant
men I was standing in the moonlight upon the banks of a broad river
that taps the eastern shore of Earth's most blessed land. I have
answered you, my friend. Do you believe?"
"I believe," replied Tars Tarkas, "though I cannot understand."
As we talked I had been searching the interior of the chamber with
my eyes. It was, perhaps, two hundred feet in length and half as
broad, with what appeared to be a doorway in the centre of the wall
directly opposite that through which we had entered.
The apartment was hewn from the material of the cliff, showing
mostly dull gold in the dim light which a single minute radium
illuminator in the centre of the roof diffused throughout its great
dimensions. Here and there polished surfaces of ruby, emerald,
and diamond patched the golden walls and ceiling. The floor was of
another material, very hard, and worn by much use to the smoothness
of glass. Aside from the two doors I could discern no sign of other
aperture, and as one we knew to be locked against us I approached
As I extended my hand to search for the controlling button, that
cruel and mocking laugh rang out once more, so close to me this
time that I involuntarily shrank back, tightening my grip upon the
hilt of my great sword.
And then from the far corner of the great chamber a hollow voice
chanted: "There is no hope, there is no hope; the dead return not,
the dead return not; nor is there any resurrection. Hope not, for
there is no hope."
Though our eyes instantly turned toward the spot from which the
voice seemed to emanate, there was no one in sight, and I must
admit that cold shivers played along my spine and the short hairs
at the base of my head stiffened and rose up, as do those upon a
hound's neck when in the night his eyes see those uncanny things
which are hidden from the sight of man.
Quickly I walked toward the mournful voice, but it had ceased ere
I reached the further wall, and then from the other end of the
chamber came another voice, shrill and piercing:
"Fools! Fools!" it shrieked. "Thinkest thou to defeat the eternal
laws of life and death? Wouldst cheat the mysterious Issus,
Goddess of Death, of her just dues? Did not her mighty messenger,
the ancient Iss, bear you upon her leaden bosom at your own behest
to the Valley Dor?
"Thinkest thou, O fools, that Issus wilt give up her own? Thinkest
thou to escape from whence in all the countless ages but a single
soul has fled?
"Go back the way thou camest, to the merciful maws of the children
of the Tree of Life or the gleaming fangs of the great white
apes, for there lies speedy surcease from suffering; but insist in
your rash purpose to thread the mazes of the Golden Cliffs of the
Mountains of Otz, past the ramparts of the impregnable fortresses
of the Holy Therns, and upon your way Death in its most frightful
form will overtake you--a death so horrible that even the Holy
Therns themselves, who conceived both Life and Death, avert their
eyes from its fiendishness and close their ears against the hideous
shrieks of its victims.
"Go back, O fools, the way thou camest."
And then the awful laugh broke out from another part of the chamber.
"Most uncanny," I remarked, turning to Tars Tarkas.
"What shall we do?" he asked. "We cannot fight empty air; I would
almost sooner return and face foes into whose flesh I may feel
my blade bite and know that I am selling my carcass dearly before
I go down to that eternal oblivion which is evidently the fairest
and most desirable eternity that mortal man has the right to hope
"If, as you say, we cannot fight empty air, Tars Tarkas," I replied,
"neither, on the other hand, can empty air fight us. I, who have
faced and conquered in my time thousands of sinewy warriors and
tempered blades, shall not be turned back by wind; nor no more
shall you, Thark."
"But unseen voices may emanate from unseen and unseeable creatures
who wield invisible blades," answered the green warrior.
"Rot, Tars Tarkas," I cried, "those voices come from beings as real
as you or as I. In their veins flows lifeblood that may be let as
easily as ours, and the fact that they remain invisible to us is the
best proof to my mind that they are mortal; nor overly courageous
mortals at that. Think you, Tars Tarkas, that John Carter will fly
at the first shriek of a cowardly foe who dare not come out into
the open and face a good blade?"
I had spoken in a loud voice that there might be no question that
our would-be terrorizers should hear me, for I was tiring of this
nerve-racking fiasco. It had occurred to me, too, that the whole
business was but a plan to frighten us back into the valley of
death from which we had escaped, that we might be quickly disposed
of by the savage creatures there.
For a long period there was silence, then of a sudden a soft,
stealthy sound behind me caused me to turn suddenly to behold a
great many-legged banth creeping sinuously upon me.
The banth is a fierce beast of prey that roams the low hills
surrounding the dead seas of ancient Mars. Like nearly all Martian
animals it is almost hairless, having only a great bristly mane
about its thick neck.
Its long, lithe body is supported by ten powerful legs, its enormous
jaws are equipped, like those of the calot, or Martian hound,
with several rows of long needle-like fangs; its mouth reaches to
a point far back of its tiny ears, while its enormous, protruding
eyes of green add the last touch of terror to its awful aspect.
As it crept toward me it lashed its powerful tail against its
yellow sides, and when it saw that it was discovered it emitted
the terrifying roar which often freezes its prey into momentary
paralysis in the instant that it makes its spring.
And so it launched its great bulk toward me, but its mighty voice
had held no paralysing terrors for me, and it met cold steel instead
of the tender flesh its cruel jaws gaped so widely to engulf.
An instant later I drew my blade from the still heart of this great
Barsoomian lion, and turning toward Tars Tarkas was surprised to
see him facing a similar monster.
No sooner had he dispatched his than I, turning, as though drawn
by the instinct of my guardian subconscious mind, beheld another
of the savage denizens of the Martian wilds leaping across the
chamber toward me.
From then on for the better part of an hour one hideous creature
after another was launched upon us, springing apparently from the
empty air about us.
Tars Tarkas was satisfied; here was something tangible that he could
cut and slash with his great blade, while I, for my part, may say
that the diversion was a marked improvement over the uncanny voices
from unseen lips.
That there was nothing supernatural about our new foes was well
evidenced by their howls of rage and pain as they felt the sharp
steel at their vitals, and the very real blood which flowed from
their severed arteries as they died the real death.
I noticed during the period of this new persecution that the beasts
appeared only when our backs were turned; we never saw one really
materialize from thin air, nor did I for an instant sufficiently
lose my excellent reasoning faculties to be once deluded into the
belief that the beasts came into the room other than through some
concealed and well-contrived doorway.
Among the ornaments of Tars Tarkas' leather harness, which is the
only manner of clothing worn by Martians other than silk capes and
robes of silk and fur for protection from the cold after dark, was
a small mirror, about the bigness of a lady's hand glass, which
hung midway between his shoulders and his waist against his broad
Once as he stood looking down at a newly fallen antagonist my eyes
happened to fall upon this mirror and in its shiny surface I saw
pictured a sight that caused me to whisper:
"Move not, Tars Tarkas! Move not a muscle!"
He did not ask why, but stood like a graven image while my eyes
watched the strange thing that meant so much to us.
What I saw was the quick movement of a section of the wall behind
me. It was turning upon pivots, and with it a section of the floor
directly in front of it was turning. It was as though you placed
a visiting-card upon end on a silver dollar that you had laid flat
upon a table, so that the edge of the card perfectly bisected the
surface of the coin.
The card might represent the section of the wall that turned and
the silver dollar the section of the floor. Both were so nicely
fitted into the adjacent portions of the floor and wall that no
crack had been noticeable in the dim light of the chamber.
As the turn was half completed a great beast was revealed sitting
upon its haunches upon that part of the revolving floor that had
been on the opposite side before the wall commenced to move; when
the section stopped, the beast was facing toward me on our side of
the partition--it was very simple.
But what had interested me most was the sight that the half-turned
section had presented through the opening that it had made. A
great chamber, well lighted, in which were several men and women
chained to the wall, and in front of them, evidently directing and
operating the movement of the secret doorway, a wicked-faced man,
neither red as are the red men of Mars, nor green as are the green
men, but white, like myself, with a great mass of flowing yellow
The prisoners behind him were red Martians. Chained with them
were a number of fierce beasts, such as had been turned upon us,
and others equally as ferocious.
As I turned to meet my new foe it was with a heart considerably
"Watch the wall at your end of the chamber, Tars Tarkas,"
I cautioned, "it is through secret doorways in the wall that the
brutes are loosed upon us." I was very close to him and spoke
in a low whisper that my knowledge of their secret might not be
disclosed to our tormentors.
As long as we remained each facing an opposite end of the apartment
no further attacks were made upon us, so it was quite clear to me
that the partitions were in some way pierced that our actions might
be observed from without.
At length a plan of action occurred to me, and backing quite close
to Tars Tarkas I unfolded my scheme in a low whisper, keeping my
eyes still glued upon my end of the room.
The great Thark grunted his assent to my proposition when I had
done, and in accordance with my plan commenced backing toward the
wall which I faced while I advanced slowly ahead of him.
When we had reached a point some ten feet from the secret doorway
I halted my companion, and cautioning him to remain absolutely
motionless until I gave the prearranged signal I quickly turned
my back to the door through which I could almost feel the burning
and baleful eyes of our would be executioner.
Instantly my own eyes sought the mirror upon Tars Tarkas' back and
in another second I was closely watching the section of the wall
which had been disgorging its savage terrors upon us.
I had not long to wait, for presently the golden surface commenced
to move rapidly. Scarcely had it started than I gave the signal
to Tars Tarkas, simultaneously springing for the receding half of
the pivoting door. In like manner the Thark wheeled and leaped
for the opening being made by the inswinging section.
A single bound carried me completely through into the adjoining
room and brought me face to face with the fellow whose cruel face
I had seen before. He was about my own height and well muscled
and in every outward detail moulded precisely as are Earth men.
At his side hung a long-sword, a short-sword, a dagger, and one of
the destructive radium revolvers that are common upon Mars.
The fact that I was armed only with a long-sword, and so according
to the laws and ethics of battle everywhere upon Barsoom should
only have been met with a similar or lesser weapon, seemed to have
no effect upon the moral sense of my enemy, for he whipped out his
revolver ere I scarce had touched the floor by his side, but an
uppercut from my long-sword sent it flying from his grasp before
he could discharge it.
Instantly he drew his long-sword, and thus evenly armed we set to
in earnest for one of the closest battles I ever have fought.
The fellow was a marvellous swordsman and evidently in practice,
while I had not gripped the hilt of a sword for ten long years
before that morning.
But it did not take me long to fall easily into my fighting stride,
so that in a few minutes the man began to realize that he had at
last met his match.
His face became livid with rage as he found my guard impregnable,
while blood flowed from a dozen minor wounds upon his face and
"Who are you, white man?" he hissed. "That you are no Barsoomian
from the outer world is evident from your colour. And you are not
His last statement was almost a question.
"What if I were from the Temple of Issus?" I hazarded on a wild
"Fate forfend!" he exclaimed, his face going white under the blood
that now nearly covered it.
I did not know how to follow up my lead, but I carefully laid the
idea away for future use should circumstances require it. His
answer indicated that for all he KNEW I might be from the Temple
of Issus and in it were men like unto myself, and either this man
feared the inmates of the temple or else he held their persons or
their power in such reverence that he trembled to think of the harm
and indignities he had heaped upon one of them.
But my present business with him was of a different nature than
that which requires any considerable abstract reasoning; it was to
get my sword between his ribs, and this I succeeded in doing within
the next few seconds, nor was I an instant too soon.
The chained prisoners had been watching the combat in tense silence;
not a sound had fallen in the room other than the clashing of our
contending blades, the soft shuffling of our naked feet and the
few whispered words we had hissed at each other through clenched
teeth the while we continued our mortal duel.
But as the body of my antagonist sank an inert mass to the floor
a cry of warning broke from one of the female prisoners.
"Turn! Turn! Behind you!" she shrieked, and as I wheeled at the
first note of her shrill cry I found myself facing a second man of
the same race as he who lay at my feet.
The fellow had crept stealthily from a dark corridor and was almost
upon me with raised sword ere I saw him. Tars Tarkas was nowhere
in sight and the secret panel in the wall, through which I had
come, was closed.
How I wished that he were by my side now! I had fought almost
continuously for many hours; I had passed through such experiences
and adventures as must sap the vitality of man, and with all this
I had not eaten for nearly twenty-four hours, nor slept.
I was fagged out, and for the first time in years felt a question
as to my ability to cope with an antagonist; but there was naught
else for it than to engage my man, and that as quickly and ferociously
as lay in me, for my only salvation was to rush him off his feet by
the impetuosity of my attack--I could not hope to win a long-drawn-out
But the fellow was evidently of another mind, for he backed and
parried and parried and sidestepped until I was almost completely
fagged from the exertion of attempting to finish him.
He was a more adroit swordsman, if possible, than my previous foe,
and I must admit that he led me a pretty chase and in the end came
near to making a sorry fool of me--and a dead one into the bargain.
I could feel myself growing weaker and weaker, until at length
objects commenced to blur before my eyes and I staggered and blundered
about more asleep than awake, and then it was that he worked his
pretty little coup that came near to losing me my life.
He had backed me around so that I stood in front of the corpse of
his fellow, and then he rushed me suddenly so that I was forced back
upon it, and as my heel struck it the impetus of my body flung me
backward across the dead man.
My head struck the hard pavement with a resounding whack, and
to that alone I owe my life, for it cleared my brain and the pain
roused my temper, so that I was equal for the moment to tearing
my enemy to pieces with my bare hands, and I verily believe that
I should have attempted it had not my right hand, in the act of
raising my body from the ground, come in contact with a bit of cold
As the eyes of the layman so is the hand of the fighting man when
it comes in contact with an implement of his vocation, and thus I
did not need to look or reason to know that the dead man's revolver,
lying where it had fallen when I struck it from his grasp, was at
The fellow whose ruse had put me down was springing toward me,
the point of his gleaming blade directed straight at my heart, and
as he came there rang from his lips the cruel and mocking peal of
laughter that I had heard within the Chamber of Mystery.
And so he died, his thin lips curled in the snarl of his hateful
laugh, and a bullet from the revolver of his dead companion bursting
in his heart.
His body, borne by the impetus of his headlong rush, plunged upon
me. The hilt of his sword must have struck my head, for with the
impact of the corpse I lost consciousness.
It was the sound of conflict that aroused me once more to the realities
of life. For a moment I could neither place my surroundings nor
locate the sounds which had aroused me. And then from beyond the
blank wall beside which I lay I heard the shuffling of feet, the
snarling of grim beasts, the clank of metal accoutrements, and the
heavy breathing of a man.
As I rose to my feet I glanced hurriedly about the chamber in which
I had just encountered such a warm reception. The prisoners and
the savage brutes rested in their chains by the opposite wall eyeing
me with varying expressions of curiosity, sullen rage, surprise,
The latter emotion seemed plainly evident upon the handsome and
intelligent face of the young red Martian woman whose cry of warning
had been instrumental in saving my life.
She was the perfect type of that remarkably beautiful race whose
outward appearance is identical with the more god-like races of
Earth men, except that this higher race of Martians is of a light
reddish copper colour. As she was entirely unadorned I could not
even guess her station in life, though it was evident that she was
either a prisoner or slave in her present environment.
It was several seconds before the sounds upon the opposite side of
the partition jolted my slowly returning faculties into a realization
of their probable import, and then of a sudden I grasped the
fact that they were caused by Tars Tarkas in what was evidently a
desperate struggle with wild beasts or savage men.
With a cry of encouragement I threw my weight against the secret
door, but as well have assayed the down-hurling of the cliffs
themselves. Then I sought feverishly for the secret of the revolving
panel, but my search was fruitless, and I was about to raise my
longsword against the sullen gold when the young woman prisoner
called out to me.
"Save thy sword, O Mighty Warrior, for thou shalt need it more where
it will avail to some purpose--shatter it not against senseless
metal which yields better to the lightest finger touch of one who
knows its secret."
"Know you the secret of it then?" I asked.
"Yes; release me and I will give you entrance to the other horror
chamber, if you wish. The keys to my fetters are upon the first
dead of thy foemen. But why would you return to face again the
fierce banth, or whatever other form of destruction they have loosed
within that awful trap?"
"Because my friend fights there alone," I answered, as I hastily
sought and found the keys upon the carcass of the dead custodian
of this grim chamber of horrors.
There were many keys upon the oval ring, but the fair Martian maid
quickly selected that which sprung the great lock at her waist,
and freed she hurried toward the secret panel.
Again she sought out a key upon the ring. This time a slender,
needle-like affair which she inserted in an almost invisible hole
in the wall. Instantly the door swung upon its pivot, and the
contiguous section of the floor upon which I was standing carried
me with it into the chamber where Tars Tarkas fought.
The great Thark stood with his back against an angle of the walls,
while facing him in a semi-circle a half-dozen huge monsters crouched
waiting for an opening. Their blood-streaked heads and shoulders
testified to the cause of their wariness as well as to the
swordsmanship of the green warrior whose glossy hide bore the same
mute but eloquent witness to the ferocity of the attacks that he
had so far withstood.
Sharp talons and cruel fangs had torn leg, arm, and breast literally
to ribbons. So weak was he from continued exertion and loss of
blood that but for the supporting wall I doubt that he even could
have stood erect. But with the tenacity and indomitable courage
of his kind he still faced his cruel and relentless foes--the
personification of that ancient proverb of his tribe: "Leave to a
Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer."
As he saw me enter, a grim smile touched those grim lips of his,
but whether the smile signified relief or merely amusement at the
sight of my own bloody and dishevelled condition I do not know.
As I was about to spring into the conflict with my sharp long-sword
I felt a gentle hand upon my shoulder and turning found, to my
surprise, that the young woman had followed me into the chamber.
"Wait," she whispered, "leave them to me," and pushing me advanced,
all defenceless and unarmed, upon the snarling banths.
When quite close to them she spoke a single Martian word in low
but peremptory tones. Like lightning the great beasts wheeled upon
her, and I looked to see her torn to pieces before I could reach
her side, but instead the creatures slunk to her feet like puppies
that expect a merited whipping.
Again she spoke to them, but in tones so low I could not catch the
words, and then she started toward the opposite side of the chamber
with the six mighty monsters trailing at heel. One by one she
sent them through the secret panel into the room beyond, and when
the last had passed from the chamber where we stood in wide-eyed
amazement she turned and smiled at us and then herself passed
through, leaving us alone.
For a moment neither of us spoke. Then Tars Tarkas said:
"I heard the fighting beyond the partition through which you passed,
but I did not fear for you, John Carter, until I heard the report
of a revolver shot. I knew that there lived no man upon all Barsoom
who could face you with naked steel and live, but the shot stripped
the last vestige of hope from me, since you I knew to be without
firearms. Tell me of it."
I did as he bade, and then together we sought the secret panel
through which I had just entered the apartment--the one at the
opposite end of the room from that through which the girl had led
her savage companions.
To our disappointment the panel eluded our every effort to negotiate
its secret lock. We felt that once beyond it we might look with
some little hope of success for a passage to the outside world.
The fact that the prisoners within were securely chained led us
to believe that surely there must be an avenue of escape from the
terrible creatures which inhabited this unspeakable place.
Again and again we turned from one door to another, from the
baffling golden panel at one end of the chamber to its mate at the
When we had about given up all hope one of the panels turned silently
toward us, and the young woman who had led away the banths stood
once more beside us.
"Who are you?" she asked, "and what your mission, that you have
the temerity to attempt to escape from the Valley Dor and the death
you have chosen?"
"I have chosen no death, maiden," I replied. "I am not of Barsoom,
nor have I taken yet the voluntary pilgrimage upon the River Iss.
My friend here is Jeddak of all the Tharks, and though he has not
yet expressed a desire to return to the living world, I am taking
him with me from the living lie that hath lured him to this frightful
"I am of another world. I am John Carter, Prince of the House of
Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium. Perchance some faint rumour of me
may have leaked within the confines of your hellish abode."
"Yes," she replied, "naught that passes in the world we have left
is unknown here. I have heard of you, many years ago. The therns
have ofttimes wondered whither you had flown, since you had neither
taken the pilgrimage, nor could be found upon the face of Barsoom."
"Tell me," I said, "and who be you, and why a prisoner, yet with
power over the ferocious beasts of the place that denotes familiarity
and authority far beyond that which might be expected of a prisoner
or a slave?"
"Slave I am," she answered. "For fifteen years a slave in this
terrible place, and now that they have tired of me and become
fearful of the power which my knowledge of their ways has given me
I am but recently condemned to die the death."
"What death?" I asked.
"The Holy Therns eat human flesh," she answered me; "but only that
which has died beneath the sucking lips of a plant man--flesh from
which the defiling blood of life has been drawn. And to this cruel
end I have been condemned. It was to be within a few hours, had
your advent not caused an interruption of their plans."
"Was it then Holy Therns who felt the weight of John Carter's hand?"
"Oh, no; those whom you laid low are lesser therns; but of the
same cruel and hateful race. The Holy Therns abide upon the outer
slopes of these grim hills, facing the broad world from which they
harvest their victims and their spoils.
"Labyrinthine passages connect these caves with the luxurious
palaces of the Holy Therns, and through them pass upon their many
duties the lesser therns, and hordes of slaves, and prisoners, and
fierce beasts; the grim inhabitants of this sunless world.
"There be within this vast network of winding passages and countless
chambers men, women, and beasts who, born within its dim and gruesome
underworld, have never seen the light of day--nor ever shall.
"They are kept to do the bidding of the race of therns; to furnish
at once their sport and their sustenance.
"Now and again some hapless pilgrim, drifting out upon the silent
sea from the cold Iss, escapes the plant men and the great white
apes that guard the Temple of Issus and falls into the remorseless
clutches of the therns; or, as was my misfortune, is coveted by
the Holy Thern who chances to be upon watch in the balcony above
the river where it issues from the bowels of the mountains through
the cliffs of gold to empty into the Lost Sea of Korus.
"All who reach the Valley Dor are, by custom, the rightful prey of
the plant men and the apes, while their arms and ornaments become
the portion of the therns; but if one escapes the terrible denizens
of the valley for even a few hours the therns may claim such a one
as their own. And again the Holy Thern on watch, should he see a
victim he covets, often tramples upon the rights of the unreasoning
brutes of the valley and takes his prize by foul means if he cannot
gain it by fair.
"It is said that occasionally some deluded victim of Barsoomian
superstition will so far escape the clutches of the countless
enemies that beset his path from the moment that he emerges from
the subterranean passage through which the Iss flows for a thousand
miles before it enters the Valley Dor as to reach the very walls
of the Temple of Issus; but what fate awaits one there not even
the Holy Therns may guess, for who has passed within those gilded
walls never has returned to unfold the mysteries they have held
since the beginning of time.
"The Temple of Issus is to the therns what the Valley Dor is imagined
by the peoples of the outer world to be to them; it is the ultimate
haven of peace, refuge, and happiness to which they pass after
this life and wherein an eternity of eternities is spent amidst
the delights of the flesh which appeal most strongly to this race
of mental giants and moral pygmies."
"The Temple of Issus is, I take it, a heaven within a heaven," I
said. "Let us hope that there it will be meted to the therns as
they have meted it here unto others."
"Who knows?" the girl murmured.
"The therns, I judge from what you have said, are no less mortal
than we; and yet have I always heard them spoken of with the utmost
awe and reverence by the people of Barsoom, as one might speak of
the gods themselves."
"The therns are mortal," she replied. "They die from the same
causes as you or I might: those who do not live their allotted span
of life, one thousand years, when by the authority of custom they
may take their way in happiness through the long tunnel that leads
"Those who die before are supposed to spend the balance of their
allotted time in the image of a plant man, and it is for this
reason that the plant men are held sacred by the therns, since they
believe that each of these hideous creatures was formerly a thern."
"And should a plant man die?" I asked.
"Should he die before the expiration of the thousand years from
the birth of the thern whose immortality abides within him then the
soul passes into a great white ape, but should the ape die short
of the exact hour that terminates the thousand years the soul is
for ever lost and passes for all eternity into the carcass of the
slimy and fearsome silian whose wriggling thousands seethe the
silent sea beneath the hurtling moons when the sun has gone and
strange shapes walk through the Valley Dor."
"We sent several Holy Therns to the silians to-day, then," said
Tars Tarkas, laughing.
"And so will your death be the more terrible when it comes," said
the maiden. "And come it will--you cannot escape."
"One has escaped, centuries ago," I reminded her, "and what has
been done may be done again."
"It is useless even to try," she answered hopelessly.
"But try we shall," I cried, and you shall go with us, if you wish."
"To be put to death by mine own people, and render my memory
a disgrace to my family and my nation? A Prince of the House of
Tardos Mors should know better than to suggest such a thing."
Tars Tarkas listened in silence, but I could feel his eyes riveted