Edgar Rice Burroughs.

A Princess of Mars online

. (page 4 of 16)
Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars → online text (page 4 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the now rapidly reviving brute which had saved my life, and whose life
I, in turn, had rescued. They seemed to be deep in argument, and
finally one of them addressed me, but remembering my ignorance of his
language turned back to Tars Tarkas, who, with a word and gesture, gave
some command to the fellow and turned to follow us from the room.

There seemed something menacing in their attitude toward my beast, and
I hesitated to leave until I had learned the outcome. It was well I
did so, for the warrior drew an evil looking pistol from its holster
and was on the point of putting an end to the creature when I sprang
forward and struck up his arm. The bullet striking the wooden casing
of the window exploded, blowing a hole completely through the wood and

I then knelt down beside the fearsome-looking thing, and raising it to
its feet motioned for it to follow me. The looks of surprise which my
actions elicited from the Martians were ludicrous; they could not
understand, except in a feeble and childish way, such attributes as
gratitude and compassion. The warrior whose gun I had struck up looked
enquiringly at Tars Tarkas, but the latter signed that I be left to my
own devices, and so we returned to the plaza with my great beast
following close at heel, and Sola grasping me tightly by the arm.

I had at least two friends on Mars; a young woman who watched over me
with motherly solicitude, and a dumb brute which, as I later came to
know, held in its poor ugly carcass more love, more loyalty, more
gratitude than could have been found in the entire five million green
Martians who rove the deserted cities and dead sea bottoms of Mars.



After a breakfast, which was an exact replica of the meal of the
preceding day and an index of practically every meal which followed
while I was with the green men of Mars, Sola escorted me to the plaza,
where I found the entire community engaged in watching or helping at
the harnessing of huge mastodonian animals to great three-wheeled
chariots. There were about two hundred and fifty of these vehicles,
each drawn by a single animal, any one of which, from their appearance,
might easily have drawn the entire wagon train when fully loaded.

The chariots themselves were large, commodious, and gorgeously
decorated. In each was seated a female Martian loaded with ornaments
of metal, with jewels and silks and furs, and upon the back of each of
the beasts which drew the chariots was perched a young Martian driver.
Like the animals upon which the warriors were mounted, the heavier
draft animals wore neither bit nor bridle, but were guided entirely by
telepathic means.

This power is wonderfully developed in all Martians, and accounts
largely for the simplicity of their language and the relatively few
spoken words exchanged even in long conversations. It is the universal
language of Mars, through the medium of which the higher and lower
animals of this world of paradoxes are able to communicate to a greater
or less extent, depending upon the intellectual sphere of the species
and the development of the individual.

As the cavalcade took up the line of march in single file, Sola dragged
me into an empty chariot and we proceeded with the procession toward
the point by which I had entered the city the day before. At the head
of the caravan rode some two hundred warriors, five abreast, and a like
number brought up the rear, while twenty-five or thirty outriders
flanked us on either side.

Every one but myself - men, women, and children - were heavily armed, and
at the tail of each chariot trotted a Martian hound, my own beast
following closely behind ours; in fact, the faithful creature never
left me voluntarily during the entire ten years I spent on Mars. Our
way led out across the little valley before the city, through the
hills, and down into the dead sea bottom which I had traversed on my
journey from the incubator to the plaza. The incubator, as it proved,
was the terminal point of our journey this day, and, as the entire
cavalcade broke into a mad gallop as soon as we reached the level
expanse of sea bottom, we were soon within sight of our goal.

On reaching it the chariots were parked with military precision on the
four sides of the enclosure, and half a score of warriors, headed by
the enormous chieftain, and including Tars Tarkas and several other
lesser chiefs, dismounted and advanced toward it. I could see Tars
Tarkas explaining something to the principal chieftain, whose name, by
the way, was, as nearly as I can translate it into English, Lorquas
Ptomel, Jed; jed being his title.

I was soon appraised of the subject of their conversation, as, calling
to Sola, Tars Tarkas signed for her to send me to him. I had by this
time mastered the intricacies of walking under Martian conditions, and
quickly responding to his command I advanced to the side of the
incubator where the warriors stood.

As I reached their side a glance showed me that all but a very few eggs
had hatched, the incubator being fairly alive with the hideous little
devils. They ranged in height from three to four feet, and were moving
restlessly about the enclosure as though searching for food.

As I came to a halt before him, Tars Tarkas pointed over the incubator
and said, "Sak." I saw that he wanted me to repeat my performance of
yesterday for the edification of Lorquas Ptomel, and, as I must confess
that my prowess gave me no little satisfaction, I responded quickly,
leaping entirely over the parked chariots on the far side of the
incubator. As I returned, Lorquas Ptomel grunted something at me, and
turning to his warriors gave a few words of command relative to the
incubator. They paid no further attention to me and I was thus
permitted to remain close and watch their operations, which consisted
in breaking an opening in the wall of the incubator large enough to
permit of the exit of the young Martians.

On either side of this opening the women and the younger Martians, both
male and female, formed two solid walls leading out through the
chariots and quite away into the plain beyond. Between these walls the
little Martians scampered, wild as deer; being permitted to run the
full length of the aisle, where they were captured one at a time by the
women and older children; the last in the line capturing the first
little one to reach the end of the gauntlet, her opposite in the line
capturing the second, and so on until all the little fellows had left
the enclosure and been appropriated by some youth or female. As the
women caught the young they fell out of line and returned to their
respective chariots, while those who fell into the hands of the young
men were later turned over to some of the women.

I saw that the ceremony, if it could be dignified by such a name, was
over, and seeking out Sola I found her in our chariot with a hideous
little creature held tightly in her arms.

The work of rearing young, green Martians consists solely in teaching
them to talk, and to use the weapons of warfare with which they are
loaded down from the very first year of their lives. Coming from eggs
in which they have lain for five years, the period of incubation, they
step forth into the world perfectly developed except in size. Entirely
unknown to their mothers, who, in turn, would have difficulty in
pointing out the fathers with any degree of accuracy, they are the
common children of the community, and their education devolves upon the
females who chance to capture them as they leave the incubator.

Their foster mothers may not even have had an egg in the incubator, as
was the case with Sola, who had not commenced to lay, until less than a
year before she became the mother of another woman's offspring. But
this counts for little among the green Martians, as parental and filial
love is as unknown to them as it is common among us. I believe this
horrible system which has been carried on for ages is the direct cause
of the loss of all the finer feelings and higher humanitarian instincts
among these poor creatures. From birth they know no father or mother
love, they know not the meaning of the word home; they are taught that
they are only suffered to live until they can demonstrate by their
physique and ferocity that they are fit to live. Should they prove
deformed or defective in any way they are promptly shot; nor do they
see a tear shed for a single one of the many cruel hardships they pass
through from earliest infancy.

I do not mean that the adult Martians are unnecessarily or
intentionally cruel to the young, but theirs is a hard and pitiless
struggle for existence upon a dying planet, the natural resources of
which have dwindled to a point where the support of each additional
life means an added tax upon the community into which it is thrown.

By careful selection they rear only the hardiest specimens of each
species, and with almost supernatural foresight they regulate the birth
rate to merely offset the loss by death.

Each adult Martian female brings forth about thirteen eggs each year,
and those which meet the size, weight, and specific gravity tests are
hidden in the recesses of some subterranean vault where the temperature
is too low for incubation. Every year these eggs are carefully
examined by a council of twenty chieftains, and all but about one
hundred of the most perfect are destroyed out of each yearly supply.
At the end of five years about five hundred almost perfect eggs have
been chosen from the thousands brought forth. These are then placed in
the almost air-tight incubators to be hatched by the sun's rays after a
period of another five years. The hatching which we had witnessed
today was a fairly representative event of its kind, all but about one
per cent of the eggs hatching in two days. If the remaining eggs ever
hatched we knew nothing of the fate of the little Martians. They were
not wanted, as their offspring might inherit and transmit the tendency
to prolonged incubation, and thus upset the system which has maintained
for ages and which permits the adult Martians to figure the proper time
for return to the incubators, almost to an hour.

The incubators are built in remote fastnesses, where there is little or
no likelihood of their being discovered by other tribes. The result of
such a catastrophe would mean no children in the community for another
five years. I was later to witness the results of the discovery of an
alien incubator.

The community of which the green Martians with whom my lot was cast
formed a part was composed of some thirty thousand souls. They roamed
an enormous tract of arid and semi-arid land between forty and eighty
degrees south latitude, and bounded on the east and west by two large
fertile tracts. Their headquarters lay in the southwest corner of this
district, near the crossing of two of the so-called Martian canals.

As the incubator had been placed far north of their own territory in a
supposedly uninhabited and unfrequented area, we had before us a
tremendous journey, concerning which I, of course, knew nothing.

After our return to the dead city I passed several days in comparative
idleness. On the day following our return all the warriors had ridden
forth early in the morning and had not returned until just before
darkness fell. As I later learned, they had been to the subterranean
vaults in which the eggs were kept and had transported them to the
incubator, which they had then walled up for another five years, and
which, in all probability, would not be visited again during that

The vaults which hid the eggs until they were ready for the incubator
were located many miles south of the incubator, and would be visited
yearly by the council of twenty chieftains. Why they did not arrange
to build their vaults and incubators nearer home has always been a
mystery to me, and, like many other Martian mysteries, unsolved and
unsolvable by earthly reasoning and customs.

Sola's duties were now doubled, as she was compelled to care for the
young Martian as well as for me, but neither one of us required much
attention, and as we were both about equally advanced in Martian
education, Sola took it upon herself to train us together.

Her prize consisted in a male about four feet tall, very strong and
physically perfect; also, he learned quickly, and we had considerable
amusement, at least I did, over the keen rivalry we displayed. The
Martian language, as I have said, is extremely simple, and in a week I
could make all my wants known and understand nearly everything that was
said to me. Likewise, under Sola's tutelage, I developed my telepathic
powers so that I shortly could sense practically everything that went
on around me.

What surprised Sola most in me was that while I could catch telepathic
messages easily from others, and often when they were not intended for
me, no one could read a jot from my mind under any circumstances. At
first this vexed me, but later I was very glad of it, as it gave me an
undoubted advantage over the Martians.



The third day after the incubator ceremony we set forth toward home,
but scarcely had the head of the procession debouched into the open
ground before the city than orders were given for an immediate and
hasty return. As though trained for years in this particular
evolution, the green Martians melted like mist into the spacious
doorways of the nearby buildings, until, in less than three minutes,
the entire cavalcade of chariots, mastodons and mounted warriors was
nowhere to be seen.

Sola and I had entered a building upon the front of the city, in fact,
the same one in which I had had my encounter with the apes, and,
wishing to see what had caused the sudden retreat, I mounted to an
upper floor and peered from the window out over the valley and the
hills beyond; and there I saw the cause of their sudden scurrying to
cover. A huge craft, long, low, and gray-painted, swung slowly over
the crest of the nearest hill. Following it came another, and another,
and another, until twenty of them, swinging low above the ground,
sailed slowly and majestically toward us.

Each carried a strange banner swung from stem to stern above the upper
works, and upon the prow of each was painted some odd device that
gleamed in the sunlight and showed plainly even at the distance at
which we were from the vessels. I could see figures crowding the
forward decks and upper works of the air craft. Whether they had
discovered us or simply were looking at the deserted city I could not
say, but in any event they received a rude reception, for suddenly and
without warning the green Martian warriors fired a terrific volley from
the windows of the buildings facing the little valley across which the
great ships were so peacefully advancing.

Instantly the scene changed as by magic; the foremost vessel swung
broadside toward us, and bringing her guns into play returned our fire,
at the same time moving parallel to our front for a short distance and
then turning back with the evident intention of completing a great
circle which would bring her up to position once more opposite our
firing line; the other vessels followed in her wake, each one opening
upon us as she swung into position. Our own fire never diminished, and
I doubt if twenty-five per cent of our shots went wild. It had never
been given me to see such deadly accuracy of aim, and it seemed as
though a little figure on one of the craft dropped at the explosion of
each bullet, while the banners and upper works dissolved in spurts of
flame as the irresistible projectiles of our warriors mowed through

The fire from the vessels was most ineffectual, owing, as I afterward
learned, to the unexpected suddenness of the first volley, which caught
the ship's crews entirely unprepared and the sighting apparatus of the
guns unprotected from the deadly aim of our warriors.

It seems that each green warrior has certain objective points for his
fire under relatively identical circumstances of warfare. For example,
a proportion of them, always the best marksmen, direct their fire
entirely upon the wireless finding and sighting apparatus of the big
guns of an attacking naval force; another detail attends to the smaller
guns in the same way; others pick off the gunners; still others the
officers; while certain other quotas concentrate their attention upon
the other members of the crew, upon the upper works, and upon the
steering gear and propellers.

Twenty minutes after the first volley the great fleet swung trailing
off in the direction from which it had first appeared. Several of the
craft were limping perceptibly, and seemed but barely under the control
of their depleted crews. Their fire had ceased entirely and all their
energies seemed focused upon escape. Our warriors then rushed up to
the roofs of the buildings which we occupied and followed the
retreating armada with a continuous fusillade of deadly fire.

One by one, however, the ships managed to dip below the crests of the
outlying hills until only one barely moving craft was in sight. This
had received the brunt of our fire and seemed to be entirely unmanned,
as not a moving figure was visible upon her decks. Slowly she swung
from her course, circling back toward us in an erratic and pitiful
manner. Instantly the warriors ceased firing, for it was quite
apparent that the vessel was entirely helpless, and, far from being in
a position to inflict harm upon us, she could not even control herself
sufficiently to escape.

As she neared the city the warriors rushed out upon the plain to meet
her, but it was evident that she still was too high for them to hope to
reach her decks. From my vantage point in the window I could see the
bodies of her crew strewn about, although I could not make out what
manner of creatures they might be. Not a sign of life was manifest
upon her as she drifted slowly with the light breeze in a southeasterly

She was drifting some fifty feet above the ground, followed by all but
some hundred of the warriors who had been ordered back to the roofs to
cover the possibility of a return of the fleet, or of reinforcements.
It soon became evident that she would strike the face of the buildings
about a mile south of our position, and as I watched the progress of
the chase I saw a number of warriors gallop ahead, dismount and enter
the building she seemed destined to touch.

As the craft neared the building, and just before she struck, the
Martian warriors swarmed upon her from the windows, and with their
great spears eased the shock of the collision, and in a few moments
they had thrown out grappling hooks and the big boat was being hauled
to ground by their fellows below.

After making her fast, they swarmed the sides and searched the vessel
from stem to stern. I could see them examining the dead sailors,
evidently for signs of life, and presently a party of them appeared
from below dragging a little figure among them. The creature was
considerably less than half as tall as the green Martian warriors, and
from my balcony I could see that it walked erect upon two legs and
surmised that it was some new and strange Martian monstrosity with
which I had not as yet become acquainted.

They removed their prisoner to the ground and then commenced a
systematic rifling of the vessel. This operation required several
hours, during which time a number of the chariots were requisitioned to
transport the loot, which consisted in arms, ammunition, silks, furs,
jewels, strangely carved stone vessels, and a quantity of solid foods
and liquids, including many casks of water, the first I had seen since
my advent upon Mars.

After the last load had been removed the warriors made lines fast to
the craft and towed her far out into the valley in a southwesterly
direction. A few of them then boarded her and were busily engaged in
what appeared, from my distant position, as the emptying of the
contents of various carboys upon the dead bodies of the sailors and
over the decks and works of the vessel.

This operation concluded, they hastily clambered over her sides,
sliding down the guy ropes to the ground. The last warrior to leave
the deck turned and threw something back upon the vessel, waiting an
instant to note the outcome of his act. As a faint spurt of flame rose
from the point where the missile struck he swung over the side and was
quickly upon the ground. Scarcely had he alighted than the guy ropes
were simultaneously released, and the great warship, lightened by the
removal of the loot, soared majestically into the air, her decks and
upper works a mass of roaring flames.

Slowly she drifted to the southeast, rising higher and higher as the
flames ate away her wooden parts and diminished the weight upon her.
Ascending to the roof of the building I watched her for hours, until
finally she was lost in the dim vistas of the distance. The sight was
awe-inspiring in the extreme as one contemplated this mighty floating
funeral pyre, drifting unguided and unmanned through the lonely wastes
of the Martian heavens; a derelict of death and destruction, typifying
the life story of these strange and ferocious creatures into whose
unfriendly hands fate had carried it.

Much depressed, and, to me, unaccountably so, I slowly descended to the
street. The scene I had witnessed seemed to mark the defeat and
annihilation of the forces of a kindred people, rather than the routing
by our green warriors of a horde of similar, though unfriendly,
creatures. I could not fathom the seeming hallucination, nor could I
free myself from it; but somewhere in the innermost recesses of my soul
I felt a strange yearning toward these unknown foemen, and a mighty
hope surged through me that the fleet would return and demand a
reckoning from the green warriors who had so ruthlessly and wantonly
attacked it.

Close at my heel, in his now accustomed place, followed Woola, the
hound, and as I emerged upon the street Sola rushed up to me as though
I had been the object of some search on her part. The cavalcade was
returning to the plaza, the homeward march having been given up for
that day; nor, in fact, was it recommenced for more than a week, owing
to the fear of a return attack by the air craft.

Lorquas Ptomel was too astute an old warrior to be caught upon the open
plains with a caravan of chariots and children, and so we remained at
the deserted city until the danger seemed passed.

As Sola and I entered the plaza a sight met my eyes which filled my
whole being with a great surge of mingled hope, fear, exultation, and
depression, and yet most dominant was a subtle sense of relief and
happiness; for just as we neared the throng of Martians I caught a
glimpse of the prisoner from the battle craft who was being roughly
dragged into a nearby building by a couple of green Martian females.

And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure,
similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life. She did
not see me at first, but just as she was disappearing through the
portal of the building which was to be her prison she turned, and her
eyes met mine. Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her
every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and
lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair,
caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a
light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her
cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a
strangely enhancing effect.

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied
her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely
naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect
and symmetrical figure.

As her gaze rested on me her eyes opened wide in astonishment, and she
made a little sign with her free hand; a sign which I did not, of
course, understand. Just a moment we gazed upon each other, and then
the look of hope and renewed courage which had glorified her face as
she discovered me, faded into one of utter dejection, mingled with
loathing and contempt. I realized I had not answered her signal, and
ignorant as I was of Martian customs, I intuitively felt that she had
made an appeal for succor and protection which my unfortunate ignorance
had prevented me from answering. And then she was dragged out of my

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars → online text (page 4 of 16)