Part 4 out of 4
With her safely stowed in the prow, a helpless, sodden little morsel of
feminine loveliness, things began to appear more hopeful and an escape
down to blue water, my only idea, for the first time possible. Yet I must
needs go and well nigh spoil everything by over-solicitude for my charge.
Had we pushed off at once there can be no doubt my credit as a spirit
would have been established for all time in the Thither capital, and the
belief universally held that Heru had been wafted away by my enchantment
to the regions of the unknown. The idea would have gradually grown into
a tradition, receiving embellishments in succeeding generations, until
little wood children at their mother's knees came to listen in awe to the
story of how, once upon a time, the Sun-god loved a beautiful maiden, and
drove his fiery chariot across the black night-fields to her prison door,
scorching to death all who strove to gainsay him. How she flew into his
arms and drove away before all men's eyes, in his red car, into the west,
and was never seen again--the foresaid Sun-god being I, Gulliver Jones,
a much under-paid lieutenant in the glorious United States navy, with
a packet of overdue tailors' bills in my pocket, and nothing lovable
about me save a partiality for meddling with other people's affairs.
This is how it might have been, but I spoiled a pretty fairy story and
changed the whole course of Martian history by going back at that moment
in search of a wrap for my prize. Right on top of the steps was a man
with a lantern, and half a glance showed me it was the harbour master
met with on my first landing.
"Good evening," he said suspiciously. "May I ask what you are doing on
the quay at such an hour as this?"
"Doing? Oh, nothing in particular, just going out for a little fishing."
"And your companion the lady--is she too fond of fishing?"
I swore between my teeth, but could not prevent the fellow walking to the
quay edge and casting his light full upon the figure of the girl below.
I hate people who interfere with other people's business!
"Unless I am very much mistaken your fishing friend is the Hither woman
brought here a few days ago as tribute to Ar-hap."
"Well," I answered, getting into a nice temper, for I had been very much
harrassed of late, "put it at that. What would you do if it were so?"
"Call up my rain-drunk guards, and give you in charge as a thief caught
meddling with the king's property."
"Thanks, but as my interviews with Ar-hap have already begun to grow
tedious, we will settle this little matter here between ourselves at
once." And without more to-do I closed with him. There was a brief
scuffle and then I got in a blow upon his jaw which sent the harbour
master flying back head over heels amongst the sugar bales and potatoes.
Without waiting to see how he fared I ran down the steps, jumped on board,
loosened the rope, and pushed out into the river. But my heart was angry
and sore, for I knew, as turned out to be the case, that our secret was
one no more; in a short time we should have the savage king in pursuit,
and now there was nothing for it but headlong flight with only a small
chance of getting away to distant Seth.
Luckily the harbour master lay insensible until he was found at dawn,
so that we had a good start, and the moment the canoe passed from the
arcade-like approach to the town the current swung her head automatically
seaward, and away we went down stream at a pace once more filling me
All went well and we fled down the bitter stream of the Martian gulf at
a pace leaving me little to do but guide our course just clear of snags
and promontories on the port shore. Just before dawn, however, with a
thin mist on the water and flocks of a flamingo-like bird croaking as
they flew southward overhead, we were nearly captured again.
Drifting silently down on a rocky island, I was having a drink at the
water-pitcher at the moment, while Heru, her hair beaded with prismatic
moisture and looking more ethereal than ever, sat in the bows timorously
inhaling the breath of freedom, when all on a sudden voices invisible
in the mist, came round a corner. It was one of Ar-hap's war-canoes
toiling up-stream. Heru and I ducked down into the haze like dab-chicks
and held our breath.
Straight on towards us came the toiling ship, the dip of oars resonant in
the hollow fog and a ripple babbling on her cutwater plainly discernible.
How high, how high!"
sounded the sleepy song of the rowers till they were looming right
abreast and we could smell their damp hides in the morning air. Then they
stopped suddenly and some one asked,
"Is there not something like a boat away on the right?"
"It is nothing," said another, "but the lees of last night's beer curdling
in your stupid brain."
"But I saw it move."
"That must have been in dreams."
"What is all that talking about?" growled a sleepy voice of authority
from the stern.
"Bow man, sir, says he can see a boat."
"And what does it matter if he can? Are we to delay every time that lazy
ruffian spying a shadow makes it an excuse to stop to yawn and scratch?
Go on, you plankful of lubbers, or I'll give you something worth thinking
about!" And joyfully, oh, so joyfully, we heard the sullen dip of oars
Nothing more happened after that till the sun at length shone on the
little harbour town at the estuary mouth, making the masts of fishing
craft clustering there like a golden reed-bed against the cool, clean
blue of the sea beyond.
Right glad we were to see it, and keeping now in shadow of the banks,
made all haste while light was faint and mist hung about to reach the
town, finally pushing through the boats and gaining a safe hiding-place
without hostile notice before it was clear daylight.
Covering Heru up and knowing well all our chances of escape lay in
expedition, I went at once, in pursuance of a plan made during the night,
to the good dame at what, for lack of a better name, must still continue
to be called the fish-shop, and finding her alone, frankly told her the
salient points of my story. When she learned I had "robbed the lion of
his prey" and taken his new wife singlehanded from the dreaded Ar-hap her
astonishment was unbounded. Nothing would do but she must look upon the
princess, so back we went to the hiding-place, and when Heru knew that
on this woman depended our lives she stepped ashore, taking the rugged
Martian hand in her dainty fingers and begging her help so sweetly that
my own heart was moved, and, thrusting hands in pocket, I went aside,
leaving those two to settle it in their own female way.
And when I looked back in five minutes, royal Seth had her arms round the
woman's neck, kissing the homely cheeks with more than imperial fervour,
so I knew all was well thus far, and stopped expectorating at the little
fishes in the water below and went over to them. It was time! We had
hardly spoken together a minute when a couple of war-canoes filled with
men appeared round the nearest promontory, coming down the swift water
with arrow-like rapidity.
"Quick!" said the fishwife, "or we are all lost. Into your canoe and
paddle up this creek. It runs out to the sea behind the town, and at
the bar is my man's fishing-boat amongst many others. Lie hidden there
till he comes if you value your lives." So in we got, and while that
good Samaritan went back to her house we cautiously paddled through a
deserted backwater to where it presently turned through low sandbanks
to the gulf. There were the boats, and we hid the canoe and lay down
amongst them till, soon after, a man, easily recognised as the husband
of our friend, came sauntering down from the village.
At first he was sullen, not unreasonably alarmed at the danger into
which his good woman was running him. But when he set eyes on Heru
he softened immediately. Probably that thick-bodied fellow had never
seen so much female loveliness in so small a bulk in all his life, and,
being a man, he surrendered at discretion.
"In with you, then," he growled, "since I must needs risk my neck for
a pair of runaways who better deserve to be hung than I do. In with
you both into this fishing-cobble of mine, and I will cover you with
nets while I go for a mast and sail, and mind you lie as still as logs.
The town is already full of soldiers looking for you, and it will be
short shrift for us all if you are seen."
Well aware of the fact and now in the hands of destiny, the princess and
I lay down as bidden in the prow, and the man covered us lightly over
with one of those fine meshed seines used by these people to catch the
little fish I had breakfasted on more than once.
Materially I could have enjoyed the half-hour which followed, since
such rest after exertion was welcome, the sun warm, the lapping of sea
on shingle infinitely soothing, and, above all, Heru was in my arms!
How sweet and childlike she was! I could feel her little heart beating
through her scanty clothing, while every now and then she turned her
gazelle eyes to mine with a trust and admiration infinitely alluring.
Yes! as far as that went I could have lain there with that slip of
maiden royalty for ever, but the fascination of the moment was marred
by the thought of our danger. What was to prevent these new friends
giving us away? They knew we had no money to recompense them for the
risk they were running. They were poor, and a splendid reward, wealth
itself to them, would doubtless be theirs if they betrayed us even by
a look. Yet somehow I trusted them as I have trusted the poor before
with the happiest results, and telling myself this and comforting Heru,
I listened and waited.
Minute by minute went by. It seemed an age since the fisherman had
gone, but presently the sound of voices interrupted the sea's murmur.
Cautiously stealing a glance through a chink imagine my feelings on
perceiving half a dozen of Ar-hap's soldiers coming down the beach
straight towards us! Then my heart was bitter within me, and I tasted of
defeat, even with Heru in my arms. Luckily even in that moment of agony
I kept still, and another peep showed the men were now wandering about
rather aimlessly. Perhaps after all they did not know of our nearness?
Then they took to horseplay, as idle soldiers will even in Mars, pelting
each other with bits of wood and dead fish, and thereon I breathed again.
Nearer they came and nearer, my heart beating fast as they strolled
amongst the boats until they were actually "larking" round the one next
to ours. A minute or two of this, and another footstep crunched on the
pebbles, a quick, nervous one, which my instinct told me was that of
our returning friend.
"Hullo old sprat-catcher! Going for a sail?" called out a soldier,
and I knew that the group were all round our boat, Heru trembling so
violently in my breast that I thought she would make the vessel shake.
"Yes," said the man gruffly.
"Let's go with him," cried several voices. "Here, old dried haddock,
will you take us if we help haul your nets for you?"
"No, I won't. Your ugly faces would frighten all the fish out of
"And yours, you old chunk of dried mahogany, is meant to attract them
"Let's tie him to a post and go fishing in his boat ourselves," some
one suggested. Meanwhile two of them began rocking the cobble violently
from side to side. This was awful, and every moment I expected the net
and the sail which our friend had thrown down unceremoniously upon us
would roll off.
"Oh, stop that," said the Martian, who was no doubt quite as well aware of
the danger as we were. "The tide's full, the shoals are in the bay--stop
your nonsense, and help me launch like good fellows."
"Well, take two of us, then. We will sit on this heap of nets as quiet
as mice, and stand you a drink when we get back."
"No, not one of you," quoth the plucky fellow, "and here's my staff in
my hand, and if you don't leave my gear alone I will crack some of your
"That's a pity," I thought to myself, "for if they take to fighting it
will be six to one--long odds against our chances." There was indeed a
scuffle, and then a yell of pain, as though a soldier had been hit across
the knuckles; but in a minute the best disposed called out, "Oh, cease
your fun, boys, and let the fellow get off if he wants to. You know
the fleet will be down directly, and Ar-hap has promised something
worth having to the man who can find that lost bit of crackling of his.
It's my opinion she's in the town, and I for one would rather look for
her than go haddock fishing any day."
"Right you are, mates," said our friend with visible relief. "And,
what's more, if you help me launch this boat and then go to my missus and
tell her what you've done, she'll understand, and give you the biggest
pumpkinful of beer in the place. Ah, she will understand, and bless your
soft hearts and heads while you drink it--she's a cute one is my missus."
"And aren't you afraid to leave her with us?"
"Not I, my daisy, unless it were that a sight of your pretty face might
give her hysterics. Now lend a hand, your accursed chatter has already
cost me half an hour of the best fishing time."
"In with you, old buck!" shouted the soldiers; I felt the fisherman step
in, as a matter of fact he stepped in on to my toes; a dozen hands were
on the gunwales: six soldier yells resounded, it seemed, in my very ears:
there was the grit and rush of pebbles under the keel: a sudden lurch up
of the bows, which brought the fairy lady's honey-scented lips to mine,
and then the gentle lapping of deep blue waters underneath us!
There is little more to be said of that voyage. We pulled until out
of sight of the town, then hoisted sail, and, with a fair wind, held
upon one tack until we made an island where there was a small colony of
Here our friend turned back. I gave him another gold button from my
coat, and the princess a kiss upon either cheek, which he seemed to like
even more than the button. It was small payment, but the best we had.
Doubtless he got safely home, and I can but hope that Providence somehow
or other paid him and his wife for a good deed bravely done.
Those islanders in turn lent us another boat, with a guide, who had
business in the Hither capital, and on the evening of the second day,
the direct route being very short in comparison, we were under the
crumbling marble walls of Seth.
It was like turning into a hothouse from a keen winter walk, our arrival
at the beautiful but nerveless city after my life amongst the woodmen.
As for the people, they were delighted to have their princess back,
but with the delight of children, fawning about her, singing, clapping
hands, yet asking no questions as to where she had been, showing no
appreciation of our adventures--a serious offence in my eyes--and,
perhaps most important of all, no understanding of what I may call the
political bearings of Heru's restoration, and how far their arch enemies
beyond the sea might be inclined to attempt her recovery.
They were just delighted to have the princess back, and that was the
end of it. Theirs was the joy of a vast nursery let loose. Flower
processions were organised, garlands woven by the mile, a general
order issued that the nation might stay up for an hour after bedtime,
and in the vortex of that gentle rejoicing Heru was taken from me, and
I saw her no more, till there happened the wildest scene of all you have
shared with me so patiently.
Overlooked, unthanked, I turned sulky, and when this mood, one I can
never maintain for long, wore off, I threw myself into the dissipation
about me with angry zeal. I am frankly ashamed of the confession, but
I was "a sailor ashore," and can only claim the indulgences proper to
the situation. I laughed, danced, drank, through the night; I drank
deep of a dozen rosy ways to forgetfulness, till my mind was a great
confusion, full of flitting pictures of loveliness, till life itself
was an illusive pantomime, and my will but thistle-down on the folly
of the moment. I drank with those gentle roisterers all through their
starlit night, and if we stopped when morning came it was more from
weariness than virtue. Then the yellow-robed slaves gave us the wine
of recovery--alas! my faithful An was not amongst them--and all through
the day we lay about in sodden happiness.
Towards nightfall I was myself again, not unfortunately with the headache
well earned, but sufficiently remorseful to be in a vein to make good
resolutions for the future.
In this mood I mingled with a happy crowd, all purposeless and cheerful
as usual, but before long began to feel the influence of one of those
drifts, a universal turning in one direction, as seaweed turns when
the tide changes, so characteristic of Martian society. It was dusk,
a lovely soft velvet dusk, but not dark yet, and I said to a yellow-robed
fairy at my side:
"Whither away, comrade? It is not eight bells yet. Surely we are not
going to be put to bed so early as this?"
"No," said that smiling individual, "it is the princess. We are going to
listen to Princess Heru in the palace square. She reads the globe on the
terrace again tonight, to see if omens are propitious for her marriage.
She MUST marry, and you know the ceremony has been unavoidably postponed
"Unavoidably postponed?" Yes, Heaven wotted I was aware of the fact.
And was Heru going to marry black Hath in such a hurry? And after all
I had done for her? It was scarcely decent, and I tried to rouse myself
to rage over it, but somehow the seductive Martian contentment with any
fate was getting into my veins. I was not yet altogether sunk in their
slothful acceptance of the inevitable, but there was not the slightest
doubt the hot red blood in me was turning to vapid stuff such as did duty
for the article in their veins. I mustered up a half-hearted frown at
this unwelcome intelligence, turning with it on my face towards the slave
girl; but she had slipped away into the throng, so the frown evaporated,
and shrugging my shoulders I said to myself, "What does it matter?
There are twenty others will do as well for me. If not one, why then
obviously another, 'tis the only rational way to think, and at all events
there is the magic globe. That may tell us something." And slipping
my arm round the waist of the first disengaged girl--we were not then,
mind you, in Atlantic City--I kissed her dimpling cheek unreproached,
and gaily followed in the drift of humanity, trending with a low hum of
pleasure towards the great white terraces under the palace porch.
How well I knew them! It was just such an evening Heru had consulted
Fate in the same place once before; how much had happened since then!
But there was little time or inclination to think of those things now.
The whole phantom city's population had drifted to one common centre.
The crumbling seaward ramparts were all deserted; no soldier watch was
kept to note if angry woodmen came from over seas; a soft wind blew
in from off the brine, but told no tales; the streets were empty, and,
when as we waited far away in the southern sky the earth planet presently
got up, by its light Heru, herself again, came tripping down the steps
to read her fate.
They had placed another magic globe under a shroud on a tripod for her.
It stood within the charmed circle upon the terrace, and I was close by,
although the princess did not see me.
Again that weird, fantastic dance commenced, the princess working herself
up from the drowsiest undulations to a hurricane of emotion. Then she
stopped close by the orb, and seized the corner of the web covering it.
We saw the globe begin to beam with veiled magnificence at her touch.
Not an eye wavered, not a thought wandered from her in all that silent
multitude. It was a moment of the keenest suspense, and just when it
was at its height there came a strange sound of hurrying feet behind
the outermost crowd, a murmur such as a great pack of wolves might make
rushing through snow, while a soft long wail went up from the darkness.
Whether Heru understood it or not I cannot say, but she hesitated a
moment, then swept the cloth from the orb of her fate.
And as its ghostly, self-emitting light beamed up in the darkness with
weird brilliancy, there by it, in gold and furs and war panoply, huge,
fierce, and lowering, stood--AR-HAP HIMSELF!
Ay, and behind him, towering over the crouching Martians, blocking every
outlet and street, were scores and hundreds of his men. Never was
surprise so utter, ambush more complete. Even I was transfixed with
astonishment, staring with open-mouthed horror at the splendid figure
of the barbarian king as he stood aglitter in the ruddy light, scowling
defiance at the throng around him. So silently had he come on his errand
of vengeance it was difficult to believe he was a reality, and not some
clever piece of stageplay, some vision conjured up by Martian necromancy.
But he was good reality. In a minute comedy turned to tragedy. Ar-hap
gave a sign with his hand, whereon all his men set up a terrible warcry,
the like of which Seth had not heard for very long, and as far as I could
make out in the half light began hacking and hewing my luckless friends
with all their might. Meanwhile the king made at Heru, feeling sure of
her this time, and doubtless intending to make her taste his vengeance to
the dregs; and seeing her handled like that, and hearing her plaintive
cries, wrath took the place of stupid surprise in me. I was on my feet
in a second, across the intervening space, and with all my force gave
the king a blow upon the jaw which sent even him staggering backwards.
Before I could close again, so swift was the sequence of events in
those flying minutes, a wild mob of people, victims and executioners in
one disordered throng, was between us. How the king fared I know not,
nor stopped to ask, but half dragging, half carrying Heru through the
shrieking mob, got her up the palace steps and in at the great doors,
which a couple of yellow-clad slaves, more frightened of the barbarians
than thoughtful of the crowd without, promptly clapped to, and shot
the bolts. Thus we were safe for a moment, and putting the princess on a
couch, I ran up a short flight of stairs and looked out of a front window
to see if there were a chance of succouring those in the palace square.
But it was all hopeless chaos with the town already beginning to burn
and not a show of fight anywhere which I could join.
I glared out on that infernal tumult for a moment or two in an agony
of impotent rage, then turned towards the harbour and saw in the shine
of the burning town below the ancient battlements and towers of Seth
begin to gleam out, like a splendid frost work of living metal clear-cut
against the smooth, black night behind, and never a show of resistance
there either. Ay, and by this time Ar-hap's men were battering in
our gates with a big beam, and somehow, I do not know how it happened,
the palace itself away on the right, where the dry-as-dust library lay,
was also beginning to burn.
It was hopeless outside, and nothing to be done but to save Heru,
so down I went, and, with the slaves, carried her away from the hall
through a vestibule or two, and into an anteroom, where some yellow-girt
individuals were already engaged in the suggestive work of tying up
palace plate in bundles, amongst other things, alas! the great gold
love-bowl from which--oh! so long ago--I had drawn Heru's marriage billet.
These individuals told me in tremulous accents they had got a boat on a
secret waterway behind the palace whence flight to the main river and so,
far away inland, to another smaller but more peaceful city of their race
would be quite practical; and joyfully hearing this news, I handed over
to them the princess while I went to look for Hath.
And the search was not long. Dashing into the banquet-hall, still
littered with the remains of a feast, and looking down its deserted
vistas, there at the farther end, on his throne, clad in the sombre
garments he affected, chin on hand, sedate in royal melancholy, listening
unmoved to the sack of his town outside, sat the prince himself. Strange,
gloomy man, the great dead intelligence of his race shining in his face as
weird and out of place as a lonely sea beacon fading to nothing before the
glow of sunrise, never had he appeared so mysterious as at that moment.
Even in the heat of excitement I stared at him in amazement, wishing in a
hasty thought the confusion of the past few weeks had given me opportunity
to penetrate the recesses of his mind, and therefrom retell you things
better worth listening to than all the incident of my adventures.
But now there was no time to think, scarce time to act.
"Hath!" I cried, rushing over to him, "wake up, your majesty. The Thither
men are outside, killing and burning!"
"I know it."
"And the palace is on fire. You can smell the reek even here."
"Then what are you going to do?"
"My word, that is a fine proposition for a prince! If you care nothing
for town or palace perhaps you will bestir yourself for Princess Heru."
A faint glimmer of interest rose upon the alabaster calm of his face at
that name, but it faded instantly, and he said quietly,
"The slaves will save her. She will live. I looked into the book of
her fate yesterday. She will escape, and forget, and sit at another
marriage feast, and be a mother, and give the people yet one more prince
to keep the faint glimmer of our ancestry alive. I am content."
"But, d--- it, man, I am not! I take a deal more interest in the young
lady than you seem to, and have scoured half this precious planet
of yours on her account, and will be hanged if I sit idly twiddling
my thumbs while her pretty skin is in danger." But Hath was lost in
contemplation of his shoe-strings.
"Come, sir," I said, shaking his majesty by the shoulder, "don't be down
on your luck. There has been some rivalry between us, but never mind
about that just now. The princess wants you. I am going to save both
her and you, you must come with her."
"But you SHALL come."
By this time the palace was blazing like a bonfire and the uproar outside
was terrible. What was I to do? As I hesitated the arras at the further
end of the hall was swept aside, a disordered mob of slaves bearing
bundles and dragging Heru with them rushing down to the door near us.
As Heru was carried swiftly by she stretched her milk-white arms towards
the prince and turned her face, lovely as a convolvulus flower even in
its pallor, upon him.
It was a heart-moving appeal from a woman with the heart of a child,
and Hath rose to his feet while for a moment there shone a look of
responsible manhood in his eyes. But it faded quickly; he bowed slowly
as though he had received an address of condolence on the condition of
his empire, and the next moment the frightened slaves, stumbling under
their burdens, had swept poor Heru through the doorway.
I glanced savagely round at the curling smoke overhead, the red tendrils
of fire climbing up a distant wall, and there on a table by us was a
half-finished flask of the lovely tinted wine of forgetfulness. If Hath
would not come sober perhaps he might come drunk.
"Here," I cried, "drink to tomorrow, your majesty, a sovereign toast in
all ages, and better luck next time with these hairy gentlemen battering
at your majesty's doors," and splashing out a goblet full of the stuff
I handed it to him.
He took it and looked rather lovingly into the limpid pool, then
deliberately poured it on the step in front of him, and throwing the
cup away said pleasantly,
"Not tonight, good comrade; tonight I drink a deeper draught of oblivion
than that,--and here come my cup-bearers."
Even while he spoke the palace gates had given way; there was a horrible
medley of shrieks and cries, a quick sound of running feet; then again the
arras lifted and in poured a horde of Ar-hap's men-at-arms. The moment
they caught sight of us about a dozen of them, armed with bows, drew the
thick hide strings to their ears and down the hall came a ravening flight
of shafts. One went through my cap, two stuck quivering in the throne,
and one, winged with owl feather, caught black Hath full in the bosom.
He had stood out boldly at the first coming of that onset, arms crossed on
breast, chin up, and looking more of a gentleman than I had ever seen him
look before; and now, stricken, he smiled gravely, then without flinching,
and still eyeing his enemies with gentle calm, his knees unlocked, his
frame trembled, then down he went headlong, his red blood running forth
in rivulets amongst the wine of oblivion he had just poured out.
There was no time for sentiment. I shrugged my shoulders, and turning
on my heels, with the woodmen close after me, sprang through the near
doorway. Where was Heru? I flew down the corridor by which it seemed
she had retreated, and then, hesitating a moment where it divided in two,
took the left one. This to my chagrin presently began to trend upwards,
whereas I knew Heru was making for the river down below.
But it was impossible to go back, and whenever I stopped in those deserted
passages I could hear the wolflike patter of men's feet upon my trail.
On again into the stony labyrinths of the old palace, ever upwards,
in spite of my desire to go down, until at last, the pursuers off the
track for a moment, I came to a north window in the palace wall, and,
hot and breathless, stayed to look out.
All was peace here; the sky a lovely lavender, a promise of coming morning
in it, and a gold-spangled curtain of stars out yonder on the horizon.
Not a soul moved. Below appeared a sheer drop of a hundred feet into
a moat winding through thickets of heavy-scented convolvulus flowers
to the waterways beyond. And as I looked a skiff with half a dozen
rowers came swiftly out of the darkness of the wall and passed like a
shadow amongst the thickets. In the prow was all Hath's wedding plate,
and in the stern, a faint vision of unconscious loveliness, lay Heru!
Before I could lift a finger or call out, even if I had had a mind to
do so, the shadow had gone round a bend, and a shout within the palace
told me I was sighted again.
On once more, hotly pursued, until the last corridor ended in two doors
leading into a half-lit gallery with open windows at the further end.
There was a wilderness of lumber down the sides of the great garret,
and now I come to think of it more calmly I imagine it was Hath's
Lost Property Office, the vast receptacle where his slaves deposited
everything lazy Martians forgot or left about in their daily life.
At that moment it only represented a last refuge, and into it I dashed,
swung the doors to and fastened them just as the foremost of Ar-hap's
men hurled themselves upon the barrier from outside.
There I was like a rat in a trap, and like a rat I made up my mind
to fight savagely to the end, without for a moment deceiving myself
as to what that end must be. Even up there the horrible roar of
destruction was plainly audible as the barbarians sacked and burned
the ancient town, and I was glad from the bottom of my heart my poor
little princess was safely out of it. Nor did I bear her or hers the
least resentment for making off while there was yet time and leaving me
to my fate--anything else would have been contrary to Martian nature.
Doubtless she would get away, as Hath had said, and elsewhere drop a
few pearly tears and then over her sugar-candy and lotus-eating forget
with happy completeness--most blessed gift! And meanwhile the foresaid
barbarians were battering on my doors, while over their heads choking
smoke was pouring in in ever-increas-ing volumes.
In burst the first panel, then another, and I could see through the
gaps a medley of tossing weapons and wild faces without. Short shrift
for me if they came through, so in the obstinacy of desperation I set
to work to pile old furniture and dry goods against the barricade.
And as they yelled and hammered outside I screamed back defiance from
within, sweating, tugging, and hauling with the strength of ten men,
piling up the old Martian lumber against the opening till, so fierce was
the attack outside, little was left of the original doorway and nothing
between me and the beseigers but a rampart of broken woodwork half seen
in a smother of smoke and flames.
Still they came on, thrusting spears and javelins through every crevice
and my strength began to go. I threw two tables into a gap, and brained
a besieger with a sweetmeat-seller's block and smothered another, and
overturned a great chest against my barricade; but what was the purpose
of it all? They were fifty to one and my rampart quaked before them.
The smoke was stifling, and the pains of dissolution in my heart.
They burst in and clambered up the rampart like black ants. I looked
round for still one more thing to hurl into the breach. My eyes lit on
a roll of carpet: I seized it by one corner meaning to drag it to the
doorway, and it came undone at a touch.
That strange, that incredible pattern! Where in all the vicissitudes
of a chequered career had I seen such a one before? I stared at it in
amazement under the very spears of the woodmen in the red glare of Hath's
burning palace. Then all on a sudden it burst upon me that IT WAS THE
ACCURSED RUG, the very one which in response to a careless wish had swept
me out of my own dear world, and forced me to take as wild a journey
into space as ever fell to a man's lot since the universe was made!
And in another second it occurred to me that if it had brought me hither
it might take me hence. It was but a chance, yet worth trying when all
other chances were against me. As Ar-hap's men came shouting over the
barricade I threw myself down upon that incredible carpet and cried from
the bottom of my heart,
"I wish--I wish I were in New York!"
A moment of thrilling suspense and then the corners lifted as though
a strong breeze were playing upon them. Another moment and they had
curled over like an incoming surge. One swift glance I got at the smoke
and flames, the glittering spears and angry faces, and then fold upon
fold, a stifling, all-enveloping embrace, a lift, a sense of super-human
speed--and then forgetfulness.
When I came to, as reporters say, I was aware the rug had ejected me on
solid ground and disappeared, forever. Where was I! It was cool, damp,
and muddy. There were some iron railings close at hand and a street
lamp overhead. These things showed clearly to me, sitting on a doorstep
under that light, head in hand, amazed and giddy--so amazed that when
slowly the recognition came of the incredible fact my wish was gratified
and I was home again, the stupendous incident scarcely appealed to my
tingling senses more than one of the many others I had lately undergone.
Very slowly I rose to my feet, and as like a discreditable reveller as
could be, climbed the steps. The front door was open, and entering the
oh, so familiar hall a sound of voices in my sitting-room on the right
caught my ear.
"Oh no, Mrs. Brown," said one, which I recognised at once as my Polly's,
"he is dead for certain, and my heart is breaking. He would never,
never have left me so long without writing if he had been alive," and
then came a great sound of sobbing.
"Bless your kind heart, miss," said the voice of my landlady in reply,
"but you don't know as much about young gentlemen as I do. It is not
likely, if he has gone off on the razzle-dazzle, as I am sure he has,
he is going to write every post and tell you about it. Now you go off
to your ma at the hotel like a dear, and forget all about him till he
comes back--that's MY advice."
"I cannot, I cannot, Mrs. Brown. I cannot rest by day or sleep by
night for thinking of him; for wondering why he went away so suddenly,
and for hungering for news of him. Oh, I am miserable. Gully! Gully!
Come to me," and then there were sounds of troubled footsteps pacing to
and fro and of a woman's grief.
That was more than I could stand. I flung the door open, and, dirty,
dishevelled, with unsteady steps, advanced into the room.
"Ahem!" coughed Mrs. Brown, "just as I expected!"
But I had no eyes for her. "Polly! Polly!" I cried, and that dear
girl, after a startled scream and a glance to make sure it was indeed
the recovered prodigal, rushed over and threw all her weight of dear,
warm, comfortable womanhood into my arms, and the moment after burst
into a passion of happy tears down my collar.
"Humph!" quoth the landlady, "that is not what BROWN gets when he forgets
his self. No, not by any means."
But she was a good old soul at heart, and, seeing how matters stood,
with a parting glance of scorn in my direction and a toss of her head,
went out of the room, and closed the door behind her.
Need I tell in detail what followed? Polly behaved like an angel, and
when in answer to her gentle reproaches I told her the outlines of my
marvellous story she almost believed me! Over there on the writing-desk
lay a whole row of the unopened letters she had showered upon me during
my absence, and amongst them an official one. We went and opened it
together, and it was an intimation of my promotion, a much better "step"
than I had ever dared to hope for.
Holding that missive in my hand a thought suddenly occurred to me.
"Polly dear, this letter makes me able to maintain you as you ought
to be maintained, and there is still a fortnight of vacation for me.
Polly, will you marry me tomorrow?"
"No, certainly not, sir."
"Then will you marry me on Monday?"
"Do you truly, truly want me to?"
"Then, yes," and the dear girl again came blushing into my arms.
While we were thus the door opened, and in came her parents who were
staying at a neighbouring hotel while inquiries were made as to my
mysterious absence. Not unnaturally my appearance went a long way to
confirm suspicions such as Mrs. Brown had confessed to, and, after they
had given me cold salutations, Polly's mother, fixing gold glasses on
the bridge of her nose and eyeing me haughtily therefrom, observed,
"And now that you ARE safely at home again, Lieutenant Gulliver Jones,
I think I will take my daughter away with me. Tomorrow her father will
ascertain the true state of her feelings after this unpleasant experience,
and subsequently he will no doubt communicate with you on the subject."
This very icily.
But I was too happy to be lightly put down.
"My dear madam," I replied, "I am happy to be able to save her father
that trouble. I have already communicated with this young lady as to
the state of her feelings, and as an outcome I am delighted to be able
to tell you we are to be married on Monday."
"Oh yes, Mother, it is true, and if you do not want to make me the most
miserable of girls again you will not be unkind to us."
In brief, that sweet champion spoke so prettily and smoothed things so
cleverly that I was "forgiven," and later on in the evening allowed to
escort Polly back to her hotel.
"And oh!" she said, in her charmingly enthusiastic way when we were
saying goodnight, "you shall write a book about that extraordinary story
you told me just now. Only you must promise me one thing."
"What is it?"
"To leave out all about Heru--I don't like that part at all." This with
the prettiest little pout.
"But, Polly dear, see how important she was to the narrative. I cannot
quite do that."
"Then you will say as little as you can about her?"
"No more than the story compels me to."
"And you are quite sure you like me much the best, and will not go after
The compact was sealed in the most approved fashion; and here, indulgent
reader, is the artless narrative that resulted--an incident so incredible
in this prosaic latter-day world that I dare not ask you to believe,
and must humbly content myself with hoping that if I fail to convince
yet I may at least claim the consolation of having amused you.