Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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efforts to escape from the unseen thing behind me that one of the
braves was hurled headlong from the cliff to the rocks below. Their
wild cries echoed in the canyon for a short time, and then all was
still once more.

The sound which had frightened them was not repeated, but it had been
sufficient as it was to start me speculating on the possible horror
which lurked in the shadows at my back. Fear is a relative term and so
I can only measure my feelings at that time by what I had experienced
in previous positions of danger and by those that I have passed through
since; but I can say without shame that if the sensations I endured
during the next few minutes were fear, then may God help the coward,
for cowardice is of a surety its own punishment.

To be held paralyzed, with one's back toward some horrible and unknown
danger from the very sound of which the ferocious Apache warriors turn
in wild stampede, as a flock of sheep would madly flee from a pack of
wolves, seems to me the last word in fearsome predicaments for a man
who had ever been used to fighting for his life with all the energy of
a powerful physique.

Several times I thought I heard faint sounds behind me as of somebody
moving cautiously, but eventually even these ceased, and I was left to
the contemplation of my position without interruption. I could but
vaguely conjecture the cause of my paralysis, and my only hope lay in
that it might pass off as suddenly as it had fallen upon me.

Late in the afternoon my horse, which had been standing with dragging
rein before the cave, started slowly down the trail, evidently in
search of food and water, and I was left alone with my mysterious
unknown companion and the dead body of my friend, which lay just within
my range of vision upon the ledge where I had placed it in the early

From then until possibly midnight all was silence, the silence of the
dead; then, suddenly, the awful moan of the morning broke upon my
startled ears, and there came again from the black shadows the sound of
a moving thing, and a faint rustling as of dead leaves. The shock to
my already overstrained nervous system was terrible in the extreme, and
with a superhuman effort I strove to break my awful bonds. It was an
effort of the mind, of the will, of the nerves; not muscular, for I
could not move even so much as my little finger, but none the less
mighty for all that. And then something gave, there was a momentary
feeling of nausea, a sharp click as of the snapping of a steel wire,
and I stood with my back against the wall of the cave facing my unknown

And then the moonlight flooded the cave, and there before me lay my own
body as it had been lying all these hours, with the eyes staring toward
the open ledge and the hands resting limply upon the ground. I looked
first at my lifeless clay there upon the floor of the cave and then
down at myself in utter bewilderment; for there I lay clothed, and yet
here I stood but naked as at the minute of my birth.

The transition had been so sudden and so unexpected that it left me for
a moment forgetful of aught else than my strange metamorphosis. My
first thought was, is this then death! Have I indeed passed over
forever into that other life! But I could not well believe this, as I
could feel my heart pounding against my ribs from the exertion of my
efforts to release myself from the anaesthesis which had held me. My
breath was coming in quick, short gasps, cold sweat stood out from
every pore of my body, and the ancient experiment of pinching revealed
the fact that I was anything other than a wraith.

Again was I suddenly recalled to my immediate surroundings by a
repetition of the weird moan from the depths of the cave. Naked and
unarmed as I was, I had no desire to face the unseen thing which
menaced me.

My revolvers were strapped to my lifeless body which, for some
unfathomable reason, I could not bring myself to touch. My carbine was
in its boot, strapped to my saddle, and as my horse had wandered off I
was left without means of defense. My only alternative seemed to lie
in flight and my decision was crystallized by a recurrence of the
rustling sound from the thing which now seemed, in the darkness of the
cave and to my distorted imagination, to be creeping stealthily upon me.

Unable longer to resist the temptation to escape this horrible place I
leaped quickly through the opening into the starlight of a clear
Arizona night. The crisp, fresh mountain air outside the cave acted as
an immediate tonic and I felt new life and new courage coursing through
me. Pausing upon the brink of the ledge I upbraided myself for what
now seemed to me wholly unwarranted apprehension. I reasoned with
myself that I had lain helpless for many hours within the cave, yet
nothing had molested me, and my better judgment, when permitted the
direction of clear and logical reasoning, convinced me that the noises
I had heard must have resulted from purely natural and harmless causes;
probably the conformation of the cave was such that a slight breeze had
caused the sounds I heard.

I decided to investigate, but first I lifted my head to fill my lungs
with the pure, invigorating night air of the mountains. As I did so I
saw stretching far below me the beautiful vista of rocky gorge, and
level, cacti-studded flat, wrought by the moonlight into a miracle of
soft splendor and wondrous enchantment.

Few western wonders are more inspiring than the beauties of an Arizona
moonlit landscape; the silvered mountains in the distance, the strange
lights and shadows upon hog back and arroyo, and the grotesque details
of the stiff, yet beautiful cacti form a picture at once enchanting and
inspiring; as though one were catching for the first time a glimpse of
some dead and forgotten world, so different is it from the aspect of
any other spot upon our earth.

As I stood thus meditating, I turned my gaze from the landscape to the
heavens where the myriad stars formed a gorgeous and fitting canopy for
the wonders of the earthly scene. My attention was quickly riveted by
a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I
felt a spell of overpowering fascination - it was Mars, the god of war,
and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of
irresistible enchantment. As I gazed at it on that far-gone night it
seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, to draw
me as the lodestone attracts a particle of iron.

My longing was beyond the power of opposition; I closed my eyes,
stretched out my arms toward the god of my vocation and felt myself
drawn with the suddenness of thought through the trackless immensity of
space. There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness.



I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was
on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness. I
was not asleep, no need for pinching here; my inner consciousness told
me as plainly that I was upon Mars as your conscious mind tells you
that you are upon Earth. You do not question the fact; neither did I.

I found myself lying prone upon a bed of yellowish, mosslike vegetation
which stretched around me in all directions for interminable miles. I
seemed to be lying in a deep, circular basin, along the outer verge of
which I could distinguish the irregularities of low hills.

It was midday, the sun was shining full upon me and the heat of it was
rather intense upon my naked body, yet no greater than would have been
true under similar conditions on an Arizona desert. Here and there
were slight outcroppings of quartz-bearing rock which glistened in the
sunlight; and a little to my left, perhaps a hundred yards, appeared a
low, walled enclosure about four feet in height. No water, and no
other vegetation than the moss was in evidence, and as I was somewhat
thirsty I determined to do a little exploring.

Springing to my feet I received my first Martian surprise, for the
effort, which on Earth would have brought me standing upright, carried
me into the Martian air to the height of about three yards. I alighted
softly upon the ground, however, without appreciable shock or jar. Now
commenced a series of evolutions which even then seemed ludicrous in
the extreme. I found that I must learn to walk all over again, as the
muscular exertion which carried me easily and safely upon Earth played
strange antics with me upon Mars.

Instead of progressing in a sane and dignified manner, my attempts to
walk resulted in a variety of hops which took me clear of the ground a
couple of feet at each step and landed me sprawling upon my face or
back at the end of each second or third hop. My muscles, perfectly
attuned and accustomed to the force of gravity on Earth, played the
mischief with me in attempting for the first time to cope with the
lesser gravitation and lower air pressure on Mars.

I was determined, however, to explore the low structure which was the
only evidence of habitation in sight, and so I hit upon the unique plan
of reverting to first principles in locomotion, creeping. I did fairly
well at this and in a few moments had reached the low, encircling wall
of the enclosure.

There appeared to be no doors or windows upon the side nearest me, but
as the wall was but about four feet high I cautiously gained my feet
and peered over the top upon the strangest sight it had ever been given
me to see.

The roof of the enclosure was of solid glass about four or five inches
in thickness, and beneath this were several hundred large eggs,
perfectly round and snowy white. The eggs were nearly uniform in size
being about two and one-half feet in diameter.

Five or six had already hatched and the grotesque caricatures which sat
blinking in the sunlight were enough to cause me to doubt my sanity.
They seemed mostly head, with little scrawny bodies, long necks and six
legs, or, as I afterward learned, two legs and two arms, with an
intermediary pair of limbs which could be used at will either as arms
or legs. Their eyes were set at the extreme sides of their heads a
trifle above the center and protruded in such a manner that they could
be directed either forward or back and also independently of each
other, thus permitting this queer animal to look in any direction, or
in two directions at once, without the necessity of turning the head.

The ears, which were slightly above the eyes and closer together, were
small, cup-shaped antennae, protruding not more than an inch on these
young specimens. Their noses were but longitudinal slits in the center
of their faces, midway between their mouths and ears.

There was no hair on their bodies, which were of a very light
yellowish-green color. In the adults, as I was to learn quite soon,
this color deepens to an olive green and is darker in the male than in
the female. Further, the heads of the adults are not so out of
proportion to their bodies as in the case of the young.

The iris of the eyes is blood red, as in Albinos, while the pupil is
dark. The eyeball itself is very white, as are the teeth. These
latter add a most ferocious appearance to an otherwise fearsome and
terrible countenance, as the lower tusks curve upward to sharp points
which end about where the eyes of earthly human beings are located.
The whiteness of the teeth is not that of ivory, but of the snowiest
and most gleaming of china. Against the dark background of their olive
skins their tusks stand out in a most striking manner, making these
weapons present a singularly formidable appearance.

Most of these details I noted later, for I was given but little time to
speculate on the wonders of my new discovery. I had seen that the eggs
were in the process of hatching, and as I stood watching the hideous
little monsters break from their shells I failed to note the approach
of a score of full-grown Martians from behind me.

Coming, as they did, over the soft and soundless moss, which covers
practically the entire surface of Mars with the exception of the frozen
areas at the poles and the scattered cultivated districts, they might
have captured me easily, but their intentions were far more sinister.
It was the rattling of the accouterments of the foremost warrior which
warned me.

On such a little thing my life hung that I often marvel that I escaped
so easily. Had not the rifle of the leader of the party swung from its
fastenings beside his saddle in such a way as to strike against the
butt of his great metal-shod spear I should have snuffed out without
ever knowing that death was near me. But the little sound caused me to
turn, and there upon me, not ten feet from my breast, was the point of
that huge spear, a spear forty feet long, tipped with gleaming metal,
and held low at the side of a mounted replica of the little devils I
had been watching.

But how puny and harmless they now looked beside this huge and terrific
incarnation of hate, of vengeance and of death. The man himself, for
such I may call him, was fully fifteen feet in height and, on Earth,
would have weighed some four hundred pounds. He sat his mount as we
sit a horse, grasping the animal's barrel with his lower limbs, while
the hands of his two right arms held his immense spear low at the side
of his mount; his two left arms were outstretched laterally to help
preserve his balance, the thing he rode having neither bridle or reins
of any description for guidance.

And his mount! How can earthly words describe it! It towered ten feet
at the shoulder; had four legs on either side; a broad flat tail,
larger at the tip than at the root, and which it held straight out
behind while running; a gaping mouth which split its head from its
snout to its long, massive neck.

Like its master, it was entirely devoid of hair, but was of a dark
slate color and exceeding smooth and glossy. Its belly was white, and
its legs shaded from the slate of its shoulders and hips to a vivid
yellow at the feet. The feet themselves were heavily padded and
nailless, which fact had also contributed to the noiselessness of their
approach, and, in common with a multiplicity of legs, is a
characteristic feature of the fauna of Mars. The highest type of man
and one other animal, the only mammal existing on Mars, alone have
well-formed nails, and there are absolutely no hoofed animals in
existence there.

Behind this first charging demon trailed nineteen others, similar in
all respects, but, as I learned later, bearing individual
characteristics peculiar to themselves; precisely as no two of us are
identical although we are all cast in a similar mold. This picture, or
rather materialized nightmare, which I have described at length, made
but one terrible and swift impression on me as I turned to meet it.

Unarmed and naked as I was, the first law of nature manifested itself
in the only possible solution of my immediate problem, and that was to
get out of the vicinity of the point of the charging spear.
Consequently I gave a very earthly and at the same time superhuman leap
to reach the top of the Martian incubator, for such I had determined it
must be.

My effort was crowned with a success which appalled me no less than it
seemed to surprise the Martian warriors, for it carried me fully thirty
feet into the air and landed me a hundred feet from my pursuers and on
the opposite side of the enclosure.

I alighted upon the soft moss easily and without mishap, and turning
saw my enemies lined up along the further wall. Some were surveying me
with expressions which I afterward discovered marked extreme
astonishment, and the others were evidently satisfying themselves that
I had not molested their young.

They were conversing together in low tones, and gesticulating and
pointing toward me. Their discovery that I had not harmed the little
Martians, and that I was unarmed, must have caused them to look upon me
with less ferocity; but, as I was to learn later, the thing which
weighed most in my favor was my exhibition of hurdling.

While the Martians are immense, their bones are very large and they are
muscled only in proportion to the gravitation which they must overcome.
The result is that they are infinitely less agile and less powerful, in
proportion to their weight, than an Earth man, and I doubt that were
one of them suddenly to be transported to Earth he could lift his own
weight from the ground; in fact, I am convinced that he could not do so.

My feat then was as marvelous upon Mars as it would have been upon
Earth, and from desiring to annihilate me they suddenly looked upon me
as a wonderful discovery to be captured and exhibited among their

The respite my unexpected agility had given me permitted me to
formulate plans for the immediate future and to note more closely the
appearance of the warriors, for I could not disassociate these people
in my mind from those other warriors who, only the day before, had been
pursuing me.

I noted that each was armed with several other weapons in addition to
the huge spear which I have described. The weapon which caused me to
decide against an attempt at escape by flight was what was evidently a
rifle of some description, and which I felt, for some reason, they were
peculiarly efficient in handling.

These rifles were of a white metal stocked with wood, which I learned
later was a very light and intensely hard growth much prized on Mars,
and entirely unknown to us denizens of Earth. The metal of the barrel
is an alloy composed principally of aluminum and steel which they have
learned to temper to a hardness far exceeding that of the steel with
which we are familiar. The weight of these rifles is comparatively
little, and with the small caliber, explosive, radium projectiles which
they use, and the great length of the barrel, they are deadly in the
extreme and at ranges which would be unthinkable on Earth. The
theoretic effective radius of this rifle is three hundred miles, but
the best they can do in actual service when equipped with their
wireless finders and sighters is but a trifle over two hundred miles.

This is quite far enough to imbue me with great respect for the Martian
firearm, and some telepathic force must have warned me against an
attempt to escape in broad daylight from under the muzzles of twenty of
these death-dealing machines.

The Martians, after conversing for a short time, turned and rode away
in the direction from which they had come, leaving one of their number
alone by the enclosure. When they had covered perhaps two hundred
yards they halted, and turning their mounts toward us sat watching the
warrior by the enclosure.

He was the one whose spear had so nearly transfixed me, and was
evidently the leader of the band, as I had noted that they seemed to
have moved to their present position at his direction. When his force
had come to a halt he dismounted, threw down his spear and small arms,
and came around the end of the incubator toward me, entirely unarmed
and as naked as I, except for the ornaments strapped upon his head,
limbs, and breast.

When he was within about fifty feet of me he unclasped an enormous
metal armlet, and holding it toward me in the open palm of his hand,
addressed me in a clear, resonant voice, but in a language, it is
needless to say, I could not understand. He then stopped as though
waiting for my reply, pricking up his antennae-like ears and cocking
his strange-looking eyes still further toward me.

As the silence became painful I concluded to hazard a little
conversation on my own part, as I had guessed that he was making
overtures of peace. The throwing down of his weapons and the
withdrawing of his troop before his advance toward me would have
signified a peaceful mission anywhere on Earth, so why not, then, on

Placing my hand over my heart I bowed low to the Martian and explained
to him that while I did not understand his language, his actions spoke
for the peace and friendship that at the present moment were most dear
to my heart. Of course I might have been a babbling brook for all the
intelligence my speech carried to him, but he understood the action
with which I immediately followed my words.

Stretching my hand toward him, I advanced and took the armlet from his
open palm, clasping it about my arm above the elbow; smiled at him and
stood waiting. His wide mouth spread into an answering smile, and
locking one of his intermediary arms in mine we turned and walked back
toward his mount. At the same time he motioned his followers to
advance. They started toward us on a wild run, but were checked by a
signal from him. Evidently he feared that were I to be really
frightened again I might jump entirely out of the landscape.

He exchanged a few words with his men, motioned to me that I would ride
behind one of them, and then mounted his own animal. The fellow
designated reached down two or three hands and lifted me up behind him
on the glossy back of his mount, where I hung on as best I could by the
belts and straps which held the Martian's weapons and ornaments.

The entire cavalcade then turned and galloped away toward the range of
hills in the distance.



We had gone perhaps ten miles when the ground began to rise very
rapidly. We were, as I was later to learn, nearing the edge of one of
Mars' long-dead seas, in the bottom of which my encounter with the
Martians had taken place.

In a short time we gained the foot of the mountains, and after
traversing a narrow gorge came to an open valley, at the far extremity
of which was a low table land upon which I beheld an enormous city.
Toward this we galloped, entering it by what appeared to be a ruined
roadway leading out from the city, but only to the edge of the table
land, where it ended abruptly in a flight of broad steps.

Upon closer observation I saw as we passed them that the buildings were
deserted, and while not greatly decayed had the appearance of not
having been tenanted for years, possibly for ages. Toward the center
of the city was a large plaza, and upon this and in the buildings
immediately surrounding it were camped some nine or ten hundred
creatures of the same breed as my captors, for such I now considered
them despite the suave manner in which I had been trapped.

With the exception of their ornaments all were naked. The women varied
in appearance but little from the men, except that their tusks were
much larger in proportion to their height, in some instances curving
nearly to their high-set ears. Their bodies were smaller and lighter
in color, and their fingers and toes bore the rudiments of nails, which
were entirely lacking among the males. The adult females ranged in
height from ten to twelve feet.

The children were light in color, even lighter than the women, and all
looked precisely alike to me, except that some were taller than others;
older, I presumed.

I saw no signs of extreme age among them, nor is there any appreciable
difference in their appearance from the age of maturity, about forty,
until, at about the age of one thousand years, they go voluntarily upon
their last strange pilgrimage down the river Iss, which leads no living
Martian knows whither and from whose bosom no Martian has ever
returned, or would be allowed to live did he return after once
embarking upon its cold, dark waters.

Only about one Martian in a thousand dies of sickness or disease, and
possibly about twenty take the voluntary pilgrimage. The other nine
hundred and seventy-nine die violent deaths in duels, in hunting, in
aviation and in war; but perhaps by far the greatest death loss comes
during the age of childhood, when vast numbers of the little Martians
fall victims to the great white apes of Mars.

The average life expectancy of a Martian after the age of maturity is
about three hundred years, but would be nearer the one-thousand mark
were it not for the various means leading to violent death. Owing to
the waning resources of the planet it evidently became necessary to
counteract the increasing longevity which their remarkable skill in
therapeutics and surgery produced, and so human life has come to be
considered but lightly on Mars, as is evidenced by their dangerous
sports and the almost continual warfare between the various communities.

There are other and natural causes tending toward a diminution of
population, but nothing contributes so greatly to this end as the fact
that no male or female Martian is ever voluntarily without a weapon of

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars → online text (page 2 of 16)