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Shooting The Chutes And After







From: Pellucidar

Through the fog I felt my way along by means of my compass. I no
longer heard the bears, nor did I encounter one within the fog.

Experience has since taught me that these great beasts are as
terror-stricken by this phenomenon as a landsman by a fog at sea, and
that no sooner does a fog envelop them than they make the best of their
way to lower levels and a clear atmosphere. It was well for me that
this was true.

I felt very sad and lonely as I crawled along the difficult footing.
My own predicament weighed less heavily upon me than the loss of Perry,
for I loved the old fellow.

That I should ever win the opposite slopes of the range I began to
doubt, for though I am naturally sanguine, I imagine that the
bereavement which had befallen me had cast such a gloom over my spirits
that I could see no slightest ray of hope for the future.

Then, too, the blighting, gray oblivion of the cold, damp clouds
through which I wandered was distress-ing. Hope thrives best in
sunlight, and I am sure that it does not thrive at all in a fog.

But the instinct of self-preservation is stronger than hope. It
thrives, fortunately, upon nothing. It takes root upon the brink of
the grave, and blossoms in the jaws of death. Now it flourished
bravely upon the breast of dead hope, and urged me onward and upward in
a stern endeavor to justify its existence.

As I advanced the fog became denser. I could see nothing beyond my
nose. Even the snow and ice I trod were invisible.

I could not see below the breast of my bearskin coat. I seemed to be
floating in a sea of vapor.

To go forward over a dangerous glacier under such conditions was little
short of madness; but I could not have stopped going had I known
positively that death lay two paces before my nose. In the first
place, it was too cold to stop, and in the second, I should have gone
mad but for the excitement of the perils that beset each forward step.

For some time the ground had been rougher and steeper, until I had been
forced to scale a considerable height that had carried me from the
glacier entirely. I was sure from my compass that I was following the
right general direction, and so I kept on.

Once more the ground was level. From the wind that blew about me I
guessed that I must be upon some exposed peak of ridge.

And then quite suddenly I stepped out into space. Wildly I turned and
clutched at the ground that had slipped from beneath my feet.

Only a smooth, icy surface was there. I found nothing to clutch or
stay my fall, and a moment later so great was my speed that nothing
could have stayed me.

As suddenly as I had pitched into space, with equal suddenness did I
emerge from the fog, out of which I shot like a projectile from a
cannon into clear daylight. My speed was so great that I could see
nothing about me but a blurred and indistinct sheet of smooth and
frozen snow, that rushed past me with express-train velocity.

I must have slid downward thousands of feet before the steep incline
curved gently on to a broad, smooth, snow-covered plateau. Across this
I hurtled with slowly diminishing velocity, until at last objects about
me began to take definite shape.

Far ahead, miles and miles away, I saw a great valley and mighty woods,
and beyond these a broad expanse of water. In the nearer foreground I
discerned a small, dark blob of color upon the shimmering whiteness of
the snow.

"A bear," thought I, and thanked the instinct that had impelled me to
cling tenaciously to my rifle during the moments of my awful tumble.

At the rate I was going it would be but a moment before I should be
quite abreast the thing; nor was it long before I came to a sudden stop
in soft snow, upon which the sun was shining, not twenty paces from the
object of my most immediate apprehension.

It was standing upon its hind legs waiting for me. As I scrambled to
my feet to meet it, I dropped my gun in the snow and doubled up with
laughter.

It was Perry.

The expression upon his face, combined with the relief I felt at seeing
him again safe and sound, was too much for my overwrought nerves.

"David!" he cried. "David, my boy! God has been good to an old man.
He has answered my prayer."

It seems that Perry in his mad flight had plunged over the brink at
about the same point as that at which I had stepped over it a short
time later. Chance had done for us what long periods of rational labor
had failed to accomplish.

We had crossed the divide. We were upon the side of the Mountains of
the Clouds that we had for so long been attempting to reach.

We looked about. Below us were green trees and warm jungles. In the
distance was a great sea.

"The Lural Az," I said, pointing toward its blue-green surface.

Somehow--the gods alone can explain it--Perry, too, had clung to his
rifle during his mad descent of the icy slope. For that there was
cause for great rejoicing.

Neither of us was worse for his experience, so after shaking the snow
from our clothing, we set off at a great rate down toward the warmth
and comfort of the forest and the jungle.

The going was easy by comparison with the awful obstacles we had had to
encounter upon the opposite side of the divide. There were beasts, of
course, but we came through safely.

Before we halted to eat or rest, we stood beside a little mountain
brook beneath the wondrous trees of the primeval forest in an
atmosphere of warmth and comfort. It reminded me of an early June day
in the Maine Woods.

We fell to work with our short axes and cut enough small trees to build
a rude protection from the fiercer beasts. Then we lay down to sleep.

How long we slept I do not know. Perry says that inasmuch as there is
no means of measuring time within Pellucidar, there can be no such
thing as time here, and that we may have slept an outer earthly year,
or we may have slept but a second.

But this I know. We had stuck the ends of some of the saplings into
the ground in the building of our shelter, first stripping the leaves
and branches from them, and when we awoke we found that many of them
had thrust forth sprouts.

Personally, I think that we slept at least a month; but who may say?
The sun marked midday when we closed our eyes; it was still in the same
position when we opened them; nor had it varied a hair's breadth in the
interim.

It is most baffling, this question of elapsed time within Pellucidar.

Anyhow, I was famished when we awoke. I think that it was the pangs of
hunger that awoke me. Ptarmigan and wild boar fell before my revolver
within a dozen moments of my awakening. Perry soon had a roaring fire
blazing by the brink of the little stream.

It was a good and delicious meal we made. Though we did not eat the
entire boar, we made a very large hole in him, while the ptarmigan was
but a mouthful.

Having satisfied our hunger, we determined to set forth at once in
search of Anoroc and my old friend, Ja the Mezop. We each thought that
by following the little stream downward, we should come upon the large
river which Ja had told me emptied into the Lural Az op-posite his
island.

We did so; nor were we disappointed, for at last after a pleasant
journey--and what journey would not be pleasant after the hardships we
had endured among the peaks of the Mountains of the Clouds--we came
upon a broad flood that rushed majestically onward in the di-rection of
the great sea we had seen from the snowy slopes of the mountains.

For three long marches we followed the left bank of the growing river,
until at last we saw it roll its mighty volume into the vast waters of
the sea. Far out across the rippling ocean we described three islands.
The one to the left must be Anoroc.

At last we had come close to a solution of our problem--the road to
Sari.

But how to reach the islands was now the foremost question in our
minds. We must build a canoe.

Perry is a most resourceful man. He has an axiom which carries the
thought-kernel that what man has done, man can do, and it doesn't cut
any figure with Perry whether a fellow knows how to do it or not.

He set out to make gunpowder once, shortly after our escape from Phutra
and at the beginning of the confederation of the wild tribes of
Pellucidar. He said that some one, without any knowledge of the fact
that such a thing might be concocted, had once stumbled upon it by
accident, and so he couldn't see why a fellow who knew all about powder
except how to make it couldn't do as well.

He worked mighty hard mixing all sorts of things together, until
finally he evolved a substance that looked like powder. He had been
very proud of the stuff, and had gone about the village of the Sarians
exhibiting it to every one who would listen to him, and explaining what
its purpose was and what terrific havoc it would work, until finally
the natives became so terrified at the stuff that they wouldn't come
within a rod of Perry and his invention.

Finally, I suggested that we experiment with it and see what it would
do, so Perry built a fire, after placing the powder at a safe distance,
and then touched a glow-ing ember to a minute particle of the deadly
explosive. It extinguished the ember.

Repeated experiments with it determined me that in searching for a high
explosive, Perry had stumbled upon a fire-extinguisher that would have
made his fortune for him back in our own world.

So now he set himself to work to build a scientific canoe. I had
suggested that we construct a dugout, but Perry convinced me that we
must build something more in keeping with our positions of supermen in
this world of the Stone Age.

"We must impress these natives with our superiority," he explained.
"You must not forget, David, that you are emperor of Pellucidar. As
such you may not with dignity approach the shores of a foreign power in
so crude a vessel as a dugout."

I pointed out to Perry that it wasn't much more incongruous for the
emperor to cruise in a canoe, than it was for the prime minister to
attempt to build one with his own hands.

He had to smile at that; but in extenuation of his act he assured me
that it was quite customary for prime ministers to give their personal
attention to the building of imperial navies; "and this," he said, "is
the imperial navy of his Serene Highness, David I, Emperor of the
Federated Kingdoms of Pellucidar."

I grinned; but Perry was quite serious about it. It had always seemed
rather more or less of a joke to me that I should be addressed as
majesty and all the rest of it. Yet my imperial power and dignity had
been a very real thing during my brief reign.

Twenty tribes had joined the federation, and their chiefs had sworn
eternal fealty to one another and to me. Among them were many powerful
though savage nations. Their chiefs we had made kings; their tribal
lands kingdoms.

We had armed them with bows and arrows and swords, in addition to their
own more primitive weapons. I had trained them in military discipline
and in so much of the art of war as I had gleaned from extensive
reading of the campaigns of Napoleon, Von Moltke, Grant, and the
ancients.

We had marked out as best we could natural boundaries dividing the
various kingdoms. We had warned tribes beyond these boundaries that
they must not trespass, and we had marched against and severely
punished those who had.

We had met and defeated the Mahars and the Sagoths. In short, we had
demonstrated our rights to empire, and very rapidly were we being
recognized and heralded abroad when my departure for the outer world
and Hooja's treachery had set us back.

But now I had returned. The work that fate had undone must be done
again, and though I must need smile at my imperial honors, I none the
less felt the weight of duty and obligation that rested upon my
shoulders.

Slowly the imperial navy progressed toward completion. She was a
wondrous craft, but I had my doubts about her. When I voiced them to
Perry, he reminded me gently that my people for many generations had
been mine-owners, not ship-builders, and consequently I couldn't be
expected to know much about the matter.

I was minded to inquire into his hereditary fitness to design
battleships; but inasmuch as I already knew that his father had been a
minister in a back-woods village far from the coast, I hesitated lest I
offend the dear old fellow.

He was immensely serious about his work, and I must admit that in so
far as appearances went he did extremely well with the meager tools and
assistance at his command. We had only two short axes and our
hunting-knives; yet with these we hewed trees, split them into planks,
surfaced and fitted them.

The "navy" was some forty feet in length by ten feet beam. Her sides
were quite straight and fully ten feet high--"for the purpose,"
explained Perry, "of adding dignity to her appearance and rendering it
less easy for an enemy to board her."

As a matter of fact, I knew that he had had in mind the safety of her
crew under javelin-fire--the lofty sides made an admirable shelter.
Inside she reminded me of nothing so much as a floating trench. There
was also some slight analogy to a huge coffin.

Her prow sloped sharply backward from the water-line--quite like a line
of battleship. Perry had designed her more for moral effect upon an
enemy, I think, than for any real harm she might inflict, and so those
parts which were to show were the most imposing.

Below the water-line she was practically non-existent. She should have
had considerable draft; but, as the enemy couldn't have seen it, Perry
decided to do away with it, and so made her flat-bottomed. It was this
that caused my doubts about her.

There was another little idiosyncrasy of design that escaped us both
until she was about ready to launch--there was no method of propulsion.
Her sides were far too high to permit the use of sweeps, and when Perry
suggested that we pole her, I remonstrated on the grounds that it would
be a most undignified and awkward manner of sweeping down upon the foe,
even if we could find or wield poles that would reach to the bottom of
the ocean.

Finally I suggested that we convert her into a sailing vessel. When
once the idea took hold Perry was most enthusiastic about it, and
nothing would do but a four-masted, full-rigged ship.

Again I tried to dissuade him, but he was simply crazy over the
psychological effect which the appearance of this strange and mighty
craft would have upon the natives of Pellucidar. So we rigged her with
thin hides for sails and dried gut for rope.

Neither of us knew much about sailing a full-rigged ship; but that
didn't worry me a great deal, for I was confident that we should never
be called upon to do so, and as the day of launching approached I was
positive of it.

We had built her upon a low bank of the river close to where it emptied
into the sea, and just above high tide. Her keel we had laid upon
several rollers cut from small trees, the ends of the rollers in turn
resting upon parallel tracks of long saplings. Her stern was toward
the water.

A few hours before we were ready to launch her she made quite an
imposing picture, for Perry had insisted upon setting every shred of
"canvas." I told him that I didn't know much about it, but I was sure
that at launching the hull only should have been completed, every-thing
else being completed after she had floated safely.

At the last minute there was some delay while we sought a name for her.
I wanted her christened the Perry in honor both of her designer and
that other great naval genius of another world, Captain Oliver Hazard
Perry, of the United States Navy. But Perry was too modest; he
wouldn't hear of it.

We finally decided to establish a system in the naming of the fleet.
Battle-ships of the first-class should bear the names of kingdoms of
the federation; armored cruisers the names of kings; cruisers the names
of cities, and so on down the line. Therefore, we decided to name the
first battle-ship Sari, after the first of the federated kingdoms.

The launching of the Sari proved easier than I contemplated. Perry
wanted me to get in and break some-thing over the bow as she floated
out upon the bosom of the river, but I told him that I should feel
safer on dry land until I saw which side up the Sari would float.

I could see by the expression of the old man's face that my words had
hurt him; but I noticed that he didn't offer to get in himself, and so
I felt less contrition than I might otherwise.

When we cut the ropes and removed the blocks that held the Sari in
place she started for the water with a lunge. Before she hit it she
was going at a reckless speed, for we had laid our tracks quite down to
the water, greased them, and at intervals placed rollers all ready to
receive the ship as she moved forward with stately dignity. But there
was no dignity in the Sari.

When she touched the surface of the river she must have been going
twenty or thirty miles an hour. Her momentum carried her well out into
the stream, until she came to a sudden halt at the end of the long line
which we had had the foresight to attach to her bow and fasten to a
large tree upon the bank.

The moment her progress was checked she promptly capsized. Perry was
overwhelmed. I didn't upbraid him, nor remind him that I had "told him
so."

His grief was so genuine and so apparent that I didn't have the heart
to reproach him, even were I inclined to that particular sort of
meanness.

"Come, come, old man!" I cried. "It's not as bad as it looks. Give me
a hand with this rope, and we'll drag her up as far as we can; and then
when the tide goes out we'll try another scheme. I think we can make a
go of her yet."

Well, we managed to get her up into shallow water. When the tide
receded she lay there on her side in the mud, quite a pitiable object
for the premier battle-ship of a world--"the terror of the seas" was
the way Perry had occasionally described her.

We had to work fast; but before the tide came in again we had stripped
her of her sails and masts, righted her, and filled her about a quarter
full of rock ballast. If she didn't stick too fast in the mud I was
sure that she would float this time right side up.

I can tell you that it was with palpitating hearts that we sat upon the
river-bank and watched that tide come slowly in. The tides of
Pellucidar don't amount to much by comparison with our higher tides of
the outer world, but I knew that it ought to prove ample to float the
Sari.

Nor was I mistaken. Finally we had the satisfaction of seeing the
vessel rise out of the mud and float slowly upstream with the tide. As
the water rose we pulled her in quite close to the bank and clambered
aboard.

She rested safely now upon an even keel; nor did she leak, for she was
well calked with fiber and tarry pitch. We rigged up a single short
mast and light sail, fastened planking down over the ballast to form a
deck, worked her out into midstream with a couple of sweeps, and
dropped our primitive stone anchor to await the turn of the tide that
would bear us out to sea.

While we waited we devoted the time to the construction of an upper
deck, since the one immediately above the ballast was some seven feet
from the gunwale. The second deck was four feet above this. In it was
a large, commodious hatch, leading to the lower deck. The sides of the
ship rose three feet above the upper deck, forming an excellent
breastwork, which we loopholed at intervals that we might lie prone and
fire upon an enemy.

Though we were sailing out upon a peaceful mission in search of my
friend Ja, we knew that we might meet with people of some other island
who would prove unfriendly.

At last the tide turned. We weighed anchor. Slowly we drifted down
the great river toward the sea.

About us swarmed the mighty denizens of the primeval deep--plesiosauri
and ichthyosauria with all their horrid, slimy cousins whose names were
as the names of aunts and uncles to Perry, but which I have never been
able to recall an hour after having heard them.

At last we were safely launched upon the journey to which we had looked
forward for so long, and the results of which meant so much to me.





Next: Friendship And Treachery

Previous: Traveling With Terror



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