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destruction.

As we neared the plaza and my presence was discovered we were
immediately surrounded by hundreds of the creatures who seemed anxious
to pluck me from my seat behind my guard. A word from the leader of
the party stilled their clamor, and we proceeded at a trot across the
plaza to the entrance of as magnificent an edifice as mortal eye has
rested upon.

The building was low, but covered an enormous area. It was constructed
of gleaming white marble inlaid with gold and brilliant stones which
sparkled and scintillated in the sunlight. The main entrance was some
hundred feet in width and projected from the building proper to form a
huge canopy above the entrance hall. There was no stairway, but a
gentle incline to the first floor of the building opened into an
enormous chamber encircled by galleries.

On the floor of this chamber, which was dotted with highly carved
wooden desks and chairs, were assembled about forty or fifty male
Martians around the steps of a rostrum. On the platform proper
squatted an enormous warrior heavily loaded with metal ornaments,
gay-colored feathers and beautifully wrought leather trappings
ingeniously set with precious stones. From his shoulders depended a
short cape of white fur lined with brilliant scarlet silk.

What struck me as most remarkable about this assemblage and the hall in
which they were congregated was the fact that the creatures were
entirely out of proportion to the desks, chairs, and other furnishings;
these being of a size adapted to human beings such as I, whereas the
great bulks of the Martians could scarcely have squeezed into the
chairs, nor was there room beneath the desks for their long legs.
Evidently, then, there were other denizens on Mars than the wild and
grotesque creatures into whose hands I had fallen, but the evidences of
extreme antiquity which showed all around me indicated that these
buildings might have belonged to some long-extinct and forgotten race
in the dim antiquity of Mars.

Our party had halted at the entrance to the building, and at a sign
from the leader I had been lowered to the ground. Again locking his
arm in mine, we had proceeded into the audience chamber. There were
few formalities observed in approaching the Martian chieftain. My
captor merely strode up to the rostrum, the others making way for him
as he advanced. The chieftain rose to his feet and uttered the name of
my escort who, in turn, halted and repeated the name of the ruler
followed by his title.

At the time, this ceremony and the words they uttered meant nothing to
me, but later I came to know that this was the customary greeting
between green Martians. Had the men been strangers, and therefore
unable to exchange names, they would have silently exchanged ornaments,
had their missions been peaceful - otherwise they would have exchanged
shots, or have fought out their introduction with some other of their
various weapons.

My captor, whose name was Tars Tarkas, was virtually the vice-chieftain
of the community, and a man of great ability as a statesman and
warrior. He evidently explained briefly the incidents connected with
his expedition, including my capture, and when he had concluded the
chieftain addressed me at some length.

I replied in our good old English tongue merely to convince him that
neither of us could understand the other; but I noticed that when I
smiled slightly on concluding, he did likewise. This fact, and the
similar occurrence during my first talk with Tars Tarkas, convinced me
that we had at least something in common; the ability to smile,
therefore to laugh; denoting a sense of humor. But I was to learn that
the Martian smile is merely perfunctory, and that the Martian laugh is
a thing to cause strong men to blanch in horror.

The ideas of humor among the green men of Mars are widely at variance
with our conceptions of incitants to merriment. The death agonies of a
fellow being are, to these strange creatures, provocative of the wildest
hilarity, while their chief form of commonest amusement is to inflict
death on their prisoners of war in various ingenious and horrible ways.

The assembled warriors and chieftains examined me closely, feeling my
muscles and the texture of my skin. The principal chieftain then
evidently signified a desire to see me perform, and, motioning me to
follow, he started with Tars Tarkas for the open plaza.

Now, I had made no attempt to walk, since my first signal failure,
except while tightly grasping Tars Tarkas' arm, and so now I went
skipping and flitting about among the desks and chairs like some
monstrous grasshopper. After bruising myself severely, much to the
amusement of the Martians, I again had recourse to creeping, but this
did not suit them and I was roughly jerked to my feet by a towering
fellow who had laughed most heartily at my misfortunes.

As he banged me down upon my feet his face was bent close to mine and I
did the only thing a gentleman might do under the circumstances of
brutality, boorishness, and lack of consideration for a stranger's
rights; I swung my fist squarely to his jaw and he went down like a
felled ox. As he sunk to the floor I wheeled around with my back
toward the nearest desk, expecting to be overwhelmed by the vengeance
of his fellows, but determined to give them as good a battle as the
unequal odds would permit before I gave up my life.

My fears were groundless, however, as the other Martians, at first
struck dumb with wonderment, finally broke into wild peals of laughter
and applause. I did not recognize the applause as such, but later,
when I had become acquainted with their customs, I learned that I had
won what they seldom accord, a manifestation of approbation.

The fellow whom I had struck lay where he had fallen, nor did any of
his mates approach him. Tars Tarkas advanced toward me, holding out
one of his arms, and we thus proceeded to the plaza without further
mishap. I did not, of course, know the reason for which we had come to
the open, but I was not long in being enlightened. They first repeated
the word "sak" a number of times, and then Tars Tarkas made several
jumps, repeating the same word before each leap; then, turning to me,
he said, "sak!" I saw what they were after, and gathering myself
together I "sakked" with such marvelous success that I cleared a good
hundred and fifty feet; nor did I, this time, lose my equilibrium, but
landed squarely upon my feet without falling. I then returned by easy
jumps of twenty-five or thirty feet to the little group of warriors.

My exhibition had been witnessed by several hundred lesser Martians,
and they immediately broke into demands for a repetition, which the
chieftain then ordered me to make; but I was both hungry and thirsty,
and determined on the spot that my only method of salvation was to
demand the consideration from these creatures which they evidently
would not voluntarily accord. I therefore ignored the repeated
commands to "sak," and each time they were made I motioned to my mouth
and rubbed my stomach.

Tars Tarkas and the chief exchanged a few words, and the former,
calling to a young female among the throng, gave her some instructions
and motioned me to accompany her. I grasped her proffered arm and
together we crossed the plaza toward a large building on the far side.

My fair companion was about eight feet tall, having just arrived at
maturity, but not yet to her full height. She was of a light
olive-green color, with a smooth, glossy hide. Her name, as I
afterward learned, was Sola, and she belonged to the retinue of Tars
Tarkas. She conducted me to a spacious chamber in one of the buildings
fronting on the plaza, and which, from the litter of silks and furs
upon the floor, I took to be the sleeping quarters of several of the
natives.

The room was well lighted by a number of large windows and was
beautifully decorated with mural paintings and mosaics, but upon all
there seemed to rest that indefinable touch of the finger of antiquity
which convinced me that the architects and builders of these wondrous
creations had nothing in common with the crude half-brutes which now
occupied them.

Sola motioned me to be seated upon a pile of silks near the center of
the room, and, turning, made a peculiar hissing sound, as though
signaling to someone in an adjoining room. In response to her call I
obtained my first sight of a new Martian wonder. It waddled in on its
ten short legs, and squatted down before the girl like an obedient
puppy. The thing was about the size of a Shetland pony, but its head
bore a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except that the jaws were
equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks.




CHAPTER V

I ELUDE MY WATCH DOG


Sola stared into the brute's wicked-looking eyes, muttered a word or
two of command, pointed to me, and left the chamber. I could not but
wonder what this ferocious-looking monstrosity might do when left alone
in such close proximity to such a relatively tender morsel of meat; but
my fears were groundless, as the beast, after surveying me intently for
a moment, crossed the room to the only exit which led to the street,
and lay down full length across the threshold.

This was my first experience with a Martian watch dog, but it was
destined not to be my last, for this fellow guarded me carefully during
the time I remained a captive among these green men; twice saving my
life, and never voluntarily being away from me a moment.

While Sola was away I took occasion to examine more minutely the room
in which I found myself captive. The mural painting depicted scenes of
rare and wonderful beauty; mountains, rivers, lake, ocean, meadow,
trees and flowers, winding roadways, sun-kissed gardens - scenes which
might have portrayed earthly views but for the different colorings of
the vegetation. The work had evidently been wrought by a master hand,
so subtle the atmosphere, so perfect the technique; yet nowhere was
there a representation of a living animal, either human or brute, by
which I could guess at the likeness of these other and perhaps extinct
denizens of Mars.

While I was allowing my fancy to run riot in wild conjecture on the
possible explanation of the strange anomalies which I had so far met
with on Mars, Sola returned bearing both food and drink. These she
placed on the floor beside me, and seating herself a short ways off
regarded me intently. The food consisted of about a pound of some
solid substance of the consistency of cheese and almost tasteless,
while the liquid was apparently milk from some animal. It was not
unpleasant to the taste, though slightly acid, and I learned in a short
time to prize it very highly. It came, as I later discovered, not from
an animal, as there is only one mammal on Mars and that one very rare
indeed, but from a large plant which grows practically without water,
but seems to distill its plentiful supply of milk from the products of
the soil, the moisture of the air, and the rays of the sun. A single
plant of this species will give eight or ten quarts of milk per day.

After I had eaten I was greatly invigorated, but feeling the need of
rest I stretched out upon the silks and was soon asleep. I must have
slept several hours, as it was dark when I awoke, and I was very cold.
I noticed that someone had thrown a fur over me, but it had become
partially dislodged and in the darkness I could not see to replace it.
Suddenly a hand reached out and pulled the fur over me, shortly
afterwards adding another to my covering.

I presumed that my watchful guardian was Sola, nor was I wrong. This
girl alone, among all the green Martians with whom I came in contact,
disclosed characteristics of sympathy, kindliness, and affection; her
ministrations to my bodily wants were unfailing, and her solicitous
care saved me from much suffering and many hardships.

As I was to learn, the Martian nights are extremely cold, and as there
is practically no twilight or dawn, the changes in temperature are
sudden and most uncomfortable, as are the transitions from brilliant
daylight to darkness. The nights are either brilliantly illumined or
very dark, for if neither of the two moons of Mars happen to be in the
sky almost total darkness results, since the lack of atmosphere, or,
rather, the very thin atmosphere, fails to diffuse the starlight to any
great extent; on the other hand, if both of the moons are in the
heavens at night the surface of the ground is brightly illuminated.

Both of Mars' moons are vastly nearer her than is our moon to Earth;
the nearer moon being but about five thousand miles distant, while the
further is but little more than fourteen thousand miles away, against
the nearly one-quarter million miles which separate us from our moon.
The nearer moon of Mars makes a complete revolution around the planet
in a little over seven and one-half hours, so that she may be seen
hurtling through the sky like some huge meteor two or three times each
night, revealing all her phases during each transit of the heavens.

The further moon revolves about Mars in something over thirty and
one-quarter hours, and with her sister satellite makes a nocturnal
Martian scene one of splendid and weird grandeur. And it is well that
nature has so graciously and abundantly lighted the Martian night, for
the green men of Mars, being a nomadic race without high intellectual
development, have but crude means for artificial lighting; depending
principally upon torches, a kind of candle, and a peculiar oil lamp
which generates a gas and burns without a wick.

This last device produces an intensely brilliant far-reaching white
light, but as the natural oil which it requires can only be obtained by
mining in one of several widely separated and remote localities it is
seldom used by these creatures whose only thought is for today, and
whose hatred for manual labor has kept them in a semi-barbaric state
for countless ages.

After Sola had replenished my coverings I again slept, nor did I awaken
until daylight. The other occupants of the room, five in number, were
all females, and they were still sleeping, piled high with a motley
array of silks and furs. Across the threshold lay stretched the
sleepless guardian brute, just as I had last seen him on the preceding
day; apparently he had not moved a muscle; his eyes were fairly glued
upon me, and I fell to wondering just what might befall me should I
endeavor to escape.

I have ever been prone to seek adventure and to investigate and
experiment where wiser men would have left well enough alone. It
therefore now occurred to me that the surest way of learning the exact
attitude of this beast toward me would be to attempt to leave the room.
I felt fairly secure in my belief that I could escape him should he
pursue me once I was outside the building, for I had begun to take
great pride in my ability as a jumper. Furthermore, I could see from
the shortness of his legs that the brute himself was no jumper and
probably no runner.

Slowly and carefully, therefore, I gained my feet, only to see that my
watcher did the same; cautiously I advanced toward him, finding that by
moving with a shuffling gait I could retain my balance as well as make
reasonably rapid progress. As I neared the brute he backed cautiously
away from me, and when I had reached the open he moved to one side to
let me pass. He then fell in behind me and followed about ten paces in
my rear as I made my way along the deserted street.

Evidently his mission was to protect me only, I thought, but when we
reached the edge of the city he suddenly sprang before me, uttering
strange sounds and baring his ugly and ferocious tusks. Thinking to
have some amusement at his expense, I rushed toward him, and when
almost upon him sprang into the air, alighting far beyond him and away
from the city. He wheeled instantly and charged me with the most
appalling speed I had ever beheld. I had thought his short legs a bar
to swiftness, but had he been coursing with greyhounds the latter would
have appeared as though asleep on a door mat. As I was to learn, this
is the fleetest animal on Mars, and owing to its intelligence, loyalty,
and ferocity is used in hunting, in war, and as the protector of the
Martian man.

I quickly saw that I would have difficulty in escaping the fangs of the
beast on a straightaway course, and so I met his charge by doubling in
my tracks and leaping over him as he was almost upon me. This maneuver
gave me a considerable advantage, and I was able to reach the city
quite a bit ahead of him, and as he came tearing after me I jumped for
a window about thirty feet from the ground in the face of one of the
buildings overlooking the valley.

Grasping the sill I pulled myself up to a sitting posture without
looking into the building, and gazed down at the baffled animal beneath
me. My exultation was short-lived, however, for scarcely had I gained
a secure seat upon the sill than a huge hand grasped me by the neck
from behind and dragged me violently into the room. Here I was thrown
upon my back, and beheld standing over me a colossal ape-like creature,
white and hairless except for an enormous shock of bristly hair upon
its head.




CHAPTER VI

A FIGHT THAT WON FRIENDS


The thing, which more nearly resembled our earthly men than it did the
Martians I had seen, held me pinioned to the ground with one huge foot,
while it jabbered and gesticulated at some answering creature behind
me. This other, which was evidently its mate, soon came toward us,
bearing a mighty stone cudgel with which it evidently intended to brain
me.

The creatures were about ten or fifteen feet tall, standing erect, and
had, like the green Martians, an intermediary set of arms or legs,
midway between their upper and lower limbs. Their eyes were close
together and non-protruding; their ears were high set, but more
laterally located than those of the Martians, while their snouts and
teeth were strikingly like those of our African gorilla. Altogether
they were not unlovely when viewed in comparison with the green
Martians.

The cudgel was swinging in the arc which ended upon my upturned face
when a bolt of myriad-legged horror hurled itself through the doorway
full upon the breast of my executioner. With a shriek of fear the ape
which held me leaped through the open window, but its mate closed in a
terrific death struggle with my preserver, which was nothing less than
my faithful watch-thing; I cannot bring myself to call so hideous a
creature a dog.

As quickly as possible I gained my feet and backing against the wall I
witnessed such a battle as it is vouchsafed few beings to see. The
strength, agility, and blind ferocity of these two creatures is
approached by nothing known to earthly man. My beast had an advantage
in his first hold, having sunk his mighty fangs far into the breast of
his adversary; but the great arms and paws of the ape, backed by
muscles far transcending those of the Martian men I had seen, had
locked the throat of my guardian and slowly were choking out his life,
and bending back his head and neck upon his body, where I momentarily
expected the former to fall limp at the end of a broken neck.

In accomplishing this the ape was tearing away the entire front of its
breast, which was held in the vise-like grip of the powerful jaws.
Back and forth upon the floor they rolled, neither one emitting a sound
of fear or pain. Presently I saw the great eyes of my beast bulging
completely from their sockets and blood flowing from its nostrils.
That he was weakening perceptibly was evident, but so also was the ape,
whose struggles were growing momentarily less.

Suddenly I came to myself and, with that strange instinct which seems
ever to prompt me to my duty, I seized the cudgel, which had fallen to
the floor at the commencement of the battle, and swinging it with all
the power of my earthly arms I crashed it full upon the head of the
ape, crushing his skull as though it had been an eggshell.

Scarcely had the blow descended when I was confronted with a new
danger. The ape's mate, recovered from its first shock of terror, had
returned to the scene of the encounter by way of the interior of the
building. I glimpsed him just before he reached the doorway and the
sight of him, now roaring as he perceived his lifeless fellow stretched
upon the floor, and frothing at the mouth, in the extremity of his
rage, filled me, I must confess, with dire forebodings.

I am ever willing to stand and fight when the odds are not too
overwhelmingly against me, but in this instance I perceived neither
glory nor profit in pitting my relatively puny strength against the
iron muscles and brutal ferocity of this enraged denizen of an unknown
world; in fact, the only outcome of such an encounter, so far as I
might be concerned, seemed sudden death.

I was standing near the window and I knew that once in the street I
might gain the plaza and safety before the creature could overtake me;
at least there was a chance for safety in flight, against almost
certain death should I remain and fight however desperately.

It is true I held the cudgel, but what could I do with it against his
four great arms? Even should I break one of them with my first blow,
for I figured that he would attempt to ward off the cudgel, he could
reach out and annihilate me with the others before I could recover for
a second attack.

In the instant that these thoughts passed through my mind I had turned
to make for the window, but my eyes alighting on the form of my
erstwhile guardian threw all thoughts of flight to the four winds. He
lay gasping upon the floor of the chamber, his great eyes fastened upon
me in what seemed a pitiful appeal for protection. I could not
withstand that look, nor could I, on second thought, have deserted my
rescuer without giving as good an account of myself in his behalf as he
had in mine.

Without more ado, therefore, I turned to meet the charge of the
infuriated bull ape. He was now too close upon me for the cudgel to
prove of any effective assistance, so I merely threw it as heavily as I
could at his advancing bulk. It struck him just below the knees,
eliciting a howl of pain and rage, and so throwing him off his balance
that he lunged full upon me with arms wide stretched to ease his fall.

Again, as on the preceding day, I had recourse to earthly tactics, and
swinging my right fist full upon the point of his chin I followed it
with a smashing left to the pit of his stomach. The effect was
marvelous, for, as I lightly sidestepped, after delivering the second
blow, he reeled and fell upon the floor doubled up with pain and
gasping for wind. Leaping over his prostrate body, I seized the cudgel
and finished the monster before he could regain his feet.

As I delivered the blow a low laugh rang out behind me, and, turning, I
beheld Tars Tarkas, Sola, and three or four warriors standing in the
doorway of the chamber. As my eyes met theirs I was, for the second
time, the recipient of their zealously guarded applause.

My absence had been noted by Sola on her awakening, and she had quickly
informed Tars Tarkas, who had set out immediately with a handful of
warriors to search for me. As they had approached the limits of the
city they had witnessed the actions of the bull ape as he bolted into
the building, frothing with rage.

They had followed immediately behind him, thinking it barely possible
that his actions might prove a clew to my whereabouts and had witnessed
my short but decisive battle with him. This encounter, together with
my set-to with the Martian warrior on the previous day and my feats of
jumping placed me upon a high pinnacle in their regard. Evidently
devoid of all the finer sentiments of friendship, love, or affection,
these people fairly worship physical prowess and bravery, and nothing
is too good for the object of their adoration as long as he maintains
his position by repeated examples of his skill, strength, and courage.

Sola, who had accompanied the searching party of her own volition, was
the only one of the Martians whose face had not been twisted in
laughter as I battled for my life. She, on the contrary, was sober
with apparent solicitude and, as soon as I had finished the monster,
rushed to me and carefully examined my body for possible wounds or
injuries. Satisfying herself that I had come off unscathed she smiled
quietly, and, taking my hand, started toward the door of the chamber.

Tars Tarkas and the other warriors had entered and were standing over


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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars → online text (page 3 of 16)