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Escape







From: Pellucidar

Dian glanced downward and shuddered. Her tribe were hill people--they
were not accustomed to swimming other than in quiet rivers and placid
lakelets. It was not the steep that appalled her. It was the
ocean--vast, mysterious, terrible.

To dive into it from this great height was beyond her. I couldn't
wonder, either. To have attempted it myself seemed too preposterous
even for thought. Only one consideration could have prompted me to
leap headforemost from that giddy height--suicide; or at least so I
thought at the moment.

"Quick!" I urged Dian. "You cannot dive; but I can hold them until you
reach safety."

"And you?" she asked once more. "Can you dive when they come too
close? Otherwise you could not escape if you waited here until I
reached the bottom."

I saw that she would not leave me unless she thought that I could make
that frightful dive as we had seen Juag make it. I glanced once
downward; then with a mental shrug I assured her that I would dive the
mo-ment that she reached the boat. Satisfied, she began the descent
carefully, yet swiftly. I watched her for a moment, my heart in my
mouth lest some slight mis-step or the slipping of a finger-hold should
pitch her to a frightful death upon the rocks below.

Then I turned toward the advancing Hoojans--"Hoosiers," Perry dubbed
them--even going so far as to christen this island where Hooja held
sway Indiana; it is so marked now upon our maps. They were coming on
at a great rate. I raised my revolver, took deliberate aim at the
foremost warrior, and pulled the trigger. With the bark of the gun the
fellow lunged forward. His head doubled beneath him. He rolled over
and over two or three times before he came to a stop, to lie very
quietly in the thick grass among the brilliant wild flowers.

Those behind him halted. One of them hurled a javelin toward me, but
it fell short--they were just beyond javelin-range. There were two
armed with bows and arrows; these I kept my eyes on. All of them
appeared awe-struck and frightened by the sound and effect of the
firearm. They kept looking from the corpse to me and jabbering among
themselves.

I took advantage of the lull in hostilities to throw a quick glance
over the edge toward Dian. She was half-way down the cliff and
progressing finely. Then I turned back toward the enemy. One of the
bowmen was fitting an arrow to his bow. I raised my hand.

"Stop!" I cried. "Whoever shoots at me or advances toward me I shall
kill as I killed him!"

I pointed at the dead man. The fellow lowered his bow. Again there
was animated discussion. I could see that those who were not armed
with bows were urging something upon the two who were.

At last the majority appeared to prevail, for simul-taneously the two
archers raised their weapons. At the same instant I fired at one of
them, dropping him in his tracks. The other, however, launched his
missile, but the report of my gun had given him such a start that the
arrow flew wild above my head. A second after and he, too, was
sprawled upon the sward with a round hole between his eyes. It had
been a rather good shot.

I glanced over the edge again. Dian was almost at the bottom. I could
see Juag standing just beneath her with his hands upstretched to assist
her.

A sullen roar from the warriors recalled my attention toward them.
They stood shaking their fists at me and yelling insults. From the
direction of the village I saw a single warrior coming to join them.
He was a huge fellow, and when he strode among them I could tell by his
bearing and their deference toward him that he was a chieftain. He
listened to all they had to tell of the happenings of the last few
minutes; then with a command and a roar he started for me with the
whole pack at his heels. All they had needed had arrived--namely, a
brave leader.

I had two unfired cartridges in the chambers of my gun. I let the big
warrior have one of them, thinking that his death would stop them all.
But I guess they were worked up to such a frenzy of rage by this time
that nothing would have stopped them. At any rate, they only yelled
the louder as he fell and increased their speed toward me. I dropped
another with my remaining cartridge.

Then they were upon me--or almost. I thought of my promise to
Dian--the awful abyss was behind me--a big devil with a huge bludgeon
in front of me. I grasped my six-shooter by the barrel and hurled it
squarely in his face with all my strength.

Then, without waiting to learn the effect of my throw, I wheeled, ran
the few steps to the edge, and leaped as far out over that frightful
chasm as I could. I know something of diving, and all that I know I
put into that dive, which I was positive would be my last.

For a couple of hundred feet I fell in horizontal position. The
momentum I gained was terrific. I could feel the air almost as a solid
body, so swiftly I hurtled through it. Then my position gradually
changed to the vertical, and with hands outstretched I slipped through
the air, cleaving it like a flying arrow. Just before I struck the
water a perfect shower of javelins fell all about. My enemies bad
rushed to the brink and hurled their weapons after me. By a miracle I
was untouched.

In the final instant I saw that I had cleared the rocks and was going
to strike the water fairly. Then I was in and plumbing the depths. I
suppose I didn't really go very far down, but it seemed to me that I
should never stop. When at last I dared curve my hands upward and
divert my progress toward the sur-face, I thought that I should explode
for air before I ever saw the sun again except through a swirl of
water. But at last my bead popped above the waves, and I filled my
lungs with air.

Before me was the boat, from which Juag and Dian were clambering. I
couldn't understand why they were deserting it now, when we were about
to set out for the mainland in it; but when I reached its side I
under-stood. Two heavy javelins, missing Dian and Juag by but a hair's
breadth, had sunk deep into the bottom of the dugout in a straight line
with the grain of the wood, and split her almost in two from stem to
stern. She was useless.

Juag was leaning over a near-by rock, his hand out-stretched to aid me
in clambering to his side; nor did I lose any time in availing myself
of his proffered assistance. An occasional javelin was still dropping
perilously close to us, so we hastened to draw as close as possible to
the cliffside, where we were comparatively safe from the missiles.

Here we held a brief conference, in which it was decided that our only
hope now lay in making for the opposite end of the island as quickly as
we could, and utilizing the boat that I had hidden there, to continue
our journey to the mainland.

Gathering up three of the least damaged javelins that had fallen about
us, we set out upon our journey, keeping well toward the south side of
the island, which Juag said was less frequented by the Hoojans than the
central portion where the river ran. I think that this ruse must have
thrown our pursuers off our track, since we saw nothing of them nor
heard any sound of pursuit during the greater portion of our march the
length of the island.

But the way Juag had chosen was rough and round-about, so that we
consumed one or two more marches in covering the distance than if we
had followed the river. This it was which proved our undoing.

Those who sought us must have sent a party up the river immediately
after we escaped; for when we came at last onto the river-trail not far
from our destination, there can be no doubt but that we were seen by
Hoojans who were just ahead of us on the stream. The result was that
as we were passing through a clump of bush a score of warriors leaped
out upon us, and before we could scarce strike a blow in defense, had
disarmed and bound us.

For a time thereafter I seemed to be entirely bereft of hope. I could
see no ray of promise in the future--only immediate death for Juag and
me, which didn't concern me much in the face of what lay in store for
Dian.

Poor child! What an awful life she had led! From the moment that I had
first seen her chained in the slave caravan of the Mahars until now, a
prisoner of a no less cruel creature, I could recall but a few brief
intervals of peace and quiet in her tempestuous existence. Before I
had known her, Jubal the Ugly One had pursued her across a savage world
to make her his mate. She had eluded him, and finally I had slain him;
but terror and privations, and exposure to fierce beasts had haunted
her footsteps during all her lonely flight from him. And when I had
returned to the outer world the old trials had recommenced with Hooja
in Jubal's role. I could almost have wished for death to vouchsafe her
that peace which fate seemed to deny her in this life.

I spoke to her on the subject, suggesting that we expire together.

"Do not fear, David," she replied. "I shall end my life before ever
Hooja can harm me; but first I shall see that Hooja dies."

She drew from her breast a little leathern thong, to the end of which
was fastened a tiny pouch.

"What have you there?" I asked.

"Do you recall that time you stepped upon the thing you call viper in
your world?" she asked.

I nodded.

"The accident gave you the idea for the poisoned arrows with which we
fitted the warriors of the empire," she continued. "And, too, it gave
me an idea. For a long time I have carried a viper's fang in my bosom.
It has given me strength to endure many dangers, for it has always
assured me immunity from the ultimate insult. I am not ready to die
yet. First let Hooja embrace the viper's fang."

So we did not die together, and I am glad now that we did not. It is
always a foolish thing to contemplate suicide; for no matter how dark
the future may appear today, tomorrow may hold for us that which will
alter our whole life in an instant, revealing to us nothing but
sunshine and happiness. So, for my part, I shall always wait for
tomorrow.

In Pellucidar, where it is always today, the wait may not be so long,
and so it proved for us. As we were passing a lofty, flat-topped hill
through a park-like wood a perfect network of fiber ropes fell suddenly
about our guard, enmeshing them. A moment later a horde of our
friends, the hairy gorilla-men, with the mild eyes and long faces of
sheep leaped among them.

It was a very interesting fight. I was sorry that my bonds prevented
me from taking part in it, but I urged on the brutemen with my voice,
and cheered old Gr-gr-gr, their chief, each time that his mighty jaws
crunched out the life of a Hoojan. When the battle was over we found
that a few of our captors had escaped, but the majority of them lay
dead about us. The gorilla-men paid no further attention to them.
Gr-gr-gr turned to me.

"Gr-gr-gr and all his people are your friends," he said. "One saw the
warriors of the Sly One and followed them. He saw them capture you,
and then he flew to the village as fast as he could go and told me all
that he had seen. The rest you know. You did much for Gr-gr-gr and
Gr-gr-gr's people. We shall always do much for you."

I thanked him; and when I had told him of our escape and our
destination, he insisted on accompanying us to the sea with a great
number of his fierce males. Nor were we at all loath to accept his
escort. We found the canoe where I had hidden it, and bidding Gr-gr-gr
and his warriors farewell, the three of us embarked for the mainland.

I questioned Juag upon the feasibility of attempting to cross to the
mouth of the great river of which he had told me, and up which he said
we might paddle almost to Sari; but he urged me not to attempt it,
since we had but a single paddle and no water or food. I had to admit
the wisdom of his advice, but the desire to explore this great waterway
was strong upon me, arousing in me at last a determination to make the
attempt after first gaining the mainland and rectify-ing our
deficiencies.

We landed several miles north of Thuria in a little cove that seemed to
offer protection from the heavier seas which sometimes run, even upon
these usually pacific oceans of Pellucidar. Here I outlined to Dian
and Juag the plans I had in mind. They were to fit the canoe with a
small sail, the purposes of which I had to explain to them both--since
neither had ever seen or heard of such a contrivance before. Then they
were to hunt for food which we could transport with us, and prepare a
receptacle for water.

These two latter items were more in Juag's line, but he kept muttering
about the sail and the wind for a long time. I could see that he was
not even half convinced that any such ridiculous contraption could make
a canoe move through the water.

We hunted near the coast for a while, but were pot rewarded with any
particular luck. Finally we decided to hide the canoe and strike
inland in search of game. At Juag's suggestion we dug a hole in the
sand at the upper edge of the beach and buried the craft, smoothing the
surface over nicely and throwing aside the excess material we had
excavated. Then we set out away from the sea. Traveling in Thuria is
less arduous than under the midday sun which perpetually glares down on
the rest of Pellucidar's surface; but it has its draw-backs, one of
which is the depressing influence exerted by the everlasting shade of
the Land of Awful Shadow.

The farther inland we went the darker it became, until we were moving
at last through an endless twi-light. The vegetation here was sparse
and of a weird, colorless nature, though what did grow was wondrous in
shape and form. Often we saw huge lidi, or beasts of burden, striding
across the dim landscape, browsing upon the grotesque vegetation or
drinking from the slow and sullen rivers that run down from the Lidi
Plains to empty into the sea in Thuria.

What we sought was either a thag--a sort of gigantic elk--or one of the
larger species of antelope, the flesh of either of which dries nicely
in the sun. The bladder of the thag would make a fine water-bottle,
and its skin, I figured, would be a good sail. We traveled a
considerable distance inland, entirely crossing the Land of Awful
Shadow and emerging at last upon that portion of the Lidi Plains which
lies in the pleasant sunlight. Above us the pendent world revolved
upon its axis, filling me especially--and Dian to an almost equal
state--with wonder and insatiable curiosity as to what strange forms of
life existed among the hills and valleys and along the seas and rivers,
which we could plainly see.

Before us stretched the horizonless expanses of vast Pellucidar, the
Lidi Plains rolling up about us, while hanging high in the heavens to
the northwest of us I thought I discerned the many towers which marked
the entrances to the distant Mahar city, whose inhabitants preyed upon
the Thurians.

Juag suggested that we travel to the northeast, where, he said, upon
the verge of the plain we would find a wooded country in which game
should be plentiful. Acting upon his advice, we came at last to a
forest-jungle, through which wound innumerable game-paths. In the
depths of this forbidding wood we came upon the fresh spoor of thag.

Shortly after, by careful stalking, we came within javelin-range of a
small herd. Selecting a great bull, Juag and I hurled our weapons
simultaneously, Dian reserving hers for an emergency. The beast
staggered to his feet, bellowing. The rest of the herd was up and away
in an instant, only the wounded bull remaining, with lowered head and
roving eyes searching for the foe.

Then Juag exposed himself to the view of the bull--it is a part of the
tactics of the hunt--while I stepped to one side behind a bush. The
moment that the savage beast saw Juag he charged him. Juag ran
straight away, that the bull might be lured past my hiding-place. On
he came--tons of mighty bestial strength and rage.

Dian had slipped behind me. She, too, could fight a thag should
emergency require. Ah, such a girl! A rightful empress of a stone age
by every standard which two worlds might bring to measure her!

Crashing down toward us came the bull thag, bellowing and snorting,
with the power of a hundred outer-earthly bulls. When he was opposite
me I sprang for the heavy mane that covered his huge neck. To tangle
my fingers in it was the work of but an instant. Then I was running
along at the beast's shoulder.

Now, the theory upon which this hunting custom is based is one long ago
discovered by experience, and that is that a thag cannot be turned from
his charge once he has started toward the object of his wrath, so long
as he can still see the thing he charges. He evidently believes that
the man clinging to his mane is attempting to restrain him from
overtaking his prey, and so he pays no attention to this enemy, who, of
course, does not retard the mighty charge in the least.

Once in the gait of the plunging bull, it was but a slight matter to
vault to his back, as cavalrymen mount their chargers upon the run.
Juag was still running in plain sight ahead of the bull. His speed was
but a trifle less than that of the monster that pursued him. These
Pellucidarians are almost as fleet as deer; because I am not is one
reason that I am always chosen for the close-in work of the thag-hunt.
I could not keep in front of a charging thag long enough to give the
killer time to do his work. I learned that the first--and last--time I
tried it.

Once astride the bull's neck, I drew my long stone knife and, setting
the point carefully over the brute's spine, drove it home with both
hands. At the same instant I leaped clear of the stumbling animal.
Now, no vertebrate can progress far with a knife through his spine, and
the thag is no exception to the rule.

The fellow was down instantly. As he wallowed Juag returned, and the
two of us leaped in when an opening afforded the opportunity and
snatched our javelins from his side. Then we danced about him, more
like two savages than anything else, until we got the opening we were
looking for, when simultaneously, our javelins pierced his wild heart,
stilling it forever.

The thag had covered considerable ground from the point at which I had
leaped upon him. When, after despatching him, I looked back for Dian,
I could see nothing of her. I called aloud, but receiving no reply,
set out at a brisk trot to where I had left her. I had no difficulty
in finding the self-same bush behind which we had hidden, but Dian was
not there. Again and again I called, to be rewarded only by silence.
Where could she be? What could have become of her in the brief interval
since I had seen her standing just behind me?





Next: Kidnaped!

Previous: The Raid On The Cave-prison



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