Prelude John Carter Comes To Earth
From: The Chessmen Of Mars
Shea had just beaten me at chess, as usual, and, also as usual, I
had gleaned what questionable satisfaction I might by twitting
him with this indication of failing mentality by calling his
attention to the nth time to that theory, propounded by certain
scientists, which is based upon the assertion that phenomenal
chess players are always found to be from the ranks of children
under twelve, adults over seventy-two or the mentally
defective--a theory that is lightly ignored upon those rare
occasions that I win. Shea had gone to bed and I should have
followed suit, for we are always in the saddle here before
sunrise; but instead I sat there before the chess table in the
library, idly blowing smoke at the dishonored head of my defeated
While thus profitably employed I heard the east door of the
living-room open and someone enter. I thought it was Shea
returning to speak with me on some matter of tomorrow's work; but
when I raised my eyes to the doorway that connects the two rooms
I saw framed there the figure of a bronzed giant, his otherwise
naked body trapped with a jewel-encrusted harness from which
there hung at one side an ornate short-sword and at the other a
pistol of strange pattern. The black hair, the steel-gray eyes,
brave and smiling, the noble features--I recognized them at once,
and leaping to my feet I advanced with outstretched hand.
"John Carter!" I cried. "You?"
"None other, my son," he replied, taking my hand in one of his
and placing the other upon my shoulder.
"And what are you doing here?" I asked. "It has been long years
since you revisited Earth, and never before in the trappings of
Mars. Lord! but it is good to see you--and not a day older in
appearance than when you trotted me on your knee in my babyhood.
How do you explain it, John Carter, Warlord of Mars, or do you
try to explain it?"
"Why attempt to explain the inexplicable?" he replied. "As I have
told you before, I am a very old man. I do not know how old I am.
I recall no childhood; but recollect only having been always as
you see me now and as you saw me first when you were five years
old. You, yourself, have aged, though not as much as most men in
a corresponding number of years, which may be accounted for by
the fact that the same blood runs in our veins; but I have not
aged at all. I have discussed the question with a noted Martian
scientist, a friend of mine; but his theories are still only
theories. However, I am content with the fact--I never age, and I
love life and the vigor of youth.
"And now as to your natural question as to what brings me to
Earth again and in this, to earthly eyes, strange habiliment. We
may thank Kar Komak, the bowman of Lothar. It was he who gave me
the idea upon which I have been experimenting until at last I
have achieved success. As you know I have long possessed the
power to cross the void in spirit, but never before have I been
able to impart to inanimate things a similar power. Now, however,
you see me for the first time precisely as my Martian fellows see
me--you see the very short-sword that has tasted the blood of
many a savage foeman; the harness with the devices of Helium and
the insignia of my rank; the pistol that was presented to me by
Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.
"Aside from seeing you, which is my principal reason for being
here, and satisfying myself that I can transport inanimate things
from Mars to Earth, and therefore animate things if I so desire,
I have no purpose. Earth is not for me. My every interest is upon
Barsoom--my wife, my children, my work; all are there. I will
spend a quiet evening with you and then back to the world I love
even better than I love life."
As he spoke he dropped into the chair upon the opposite side of
the chess table.
"You spoke of children," I said. "Have you more than Carthoris?"
"A daughter," he replied, "only a little younger than Carthoris,
and, barring one, the fairest thing that ever breathed the thin
air of dying Mars. Only Dejah Thoris, her mother, could be more
beautiful than Tara of Helium."
For a moment he fingered the chessmen idly. "We have a game on
Mars similar to chess," he said, "very similar. And there is a
race there that plays it grimly with men and naked swords. We
call the game jetan. It is played on a board like yours, except
that there are a hundred squares and we use twenty pieces on
each side. I never see it played without thinking of Tara of
Helium and what befell her among the chessmen of Barsoom.
Would you like to hear her story?"
I said that I would and so he told it to me, and now I shall try
to re-tell it for you as nearly in the words of The Warlord of
Mars as I can recall them, but in the third person. If there be
inconsistencies and errors, let the blame fall not upon John
Carter, but rather upon my faulty memory, where it belongs. It is
a strange tale and utterly Barsoomian.
Next: Tara In A Tantrum
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