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The Pit Of Plenty







From: Warlord Of Mars

I did not languish long within the prison of Salensus Oll. During
the short time that I lay there, fettered with chains of gold, I
often wondered as to the fate of Thuvan Dihn, Jeddak of Ptarth.

My brave companion had followed me into the garden as I attacked
Thurid, and when Salensus Oll had left with Dejah Thoris and the
others, leaving Thuvia of Ptarth behind, he, too, had remained
in the garden with his daughter, apparently unnoticed, for he was
appareled similarly to the guards.

The last I had seen of him he stood waiting for the warriors who
escorted me to close the gate behind them, that he might be alone
with Thuvia. Could it be possible that they had escaped? I doubted
it, and yet with all my heart I hoped that it might be true.

The third day of my incarceration brought a dozen warriors to escort
me to the audience chamber, where Salensus Oll himself was to try
me. A great number of nobles crowded the room, and among them I
saw Thurid, but Matai Shang was not there.

Dejah Thoris, as radiantly beautiful as ever, sat upon a small throne
beside Salensus Oll. The expression of sad hopelessness upon her
dear face cut deep into my heart.

Her position beside the Jeddak of Jeddaks boded ill for her and me,
and on the instant that I saw her there, there sprang to my mind
the firm intention never to leave that chamber alive if I must
leave her in the clutches of this powerful tyrant.

I had killed better men than Salensus Oll, and killed them with my
bare hands, and now I swore to myself that I should kill him if I
found that the only way to save the Princess of Helium. That it
would mean almost instant death for me I cared not, except that
it would remove me from further efforts in behalf of Dejah Thoris,
and for this reason alone I would have chosen another way, for
even though I should kill Salensus Oll that act would not restore
my beloved wife to her own people. I determined to wait the final
outcome of the trial, that I might learn all that I could of the
Okarian ruler's intentions, and then act accordingly.

Scarcely had I come before him than Salensus Oll summoned Thurid
also.

"Dator Thurid," he said, "you have made a strange request of me;
but, in accordance with your wishes and your promise that it will
result only to my interests, I have decided to accede.

"You tell me that a certain announcement will be the means of
convicting this prisoner and, at the same time, open the way to
the gratification of my dearest wish."

Thurid nodded.

"Then shall I make the announcement here before all my nobles,"
continued Salensus Oll. "For a year no queen has sat upon the
throne beside me, and now it suits me to take to wife one who is
reputed the most beautiful woman upon Barsoom. A statement which
none may truthfully deny.

"Nobles of Okar, unsheathe your swords and do homage to Dejah Thoris,
Princess of Helium and future Queen of Okar, for at the end of the
allotted ten days she shall become the wife of Salensus Oll."

As the nobles drew their blades and lifted them on high, in
accordance with the ancient custom of Okar when a jeddak announces
his intention to wed, Dejah Thoris sprang to her feet and, raising
her hand aloft, cried in a loud voice that they desist.

"I may not be the wife of Salensus Oll," she pleaded, "for already I
be a wife and mother. John Carter, Prince of Helium, still lives.
I know it to be true, for I overheard Matai Shang tell his daughter
Phaidor that he had seen him in Kaor, at the court of Kulan Tith,
Jeddak. A jeddak does not wed a married woman, nor will Salensus
Oll thus violate the bonds of matrimony."

Salensus Oll turned upon Thurid with an ugly look.

"Is this the surprise you held in store for me?" he cried. "You
assured me that no obstacle which might not be easily overcome stood
between me and this woman, and now I find that the one insuperable
obstacle intervenes. What mean you, man? What have you to say?"

"And should I deliver John Carter into your hands, Salensus Oll,
would you not feel that I had more than satisfied the promise that
I made you?" answered Thurid.

"Talk not like a fool," cried the enraged jeddak. "I am no child
to be thus played with."

"I am talking only as a man who knows," replied Thurid. "Knows
that he can do all that he claims."

"Then turn John Carter over to me within ten days or yourself
suffer the end that I should mete out to him were he in my power!"
snapped the Jeddak of Jeddaks, with an ugly scowl.

"You need not wait ten days, Salensus Oll," replied Thurid; and
then, turning suddenly upon me as he extended a pointing finger,
he cried: "There stands John Carter, Prince of Helium!"

"Fool!" shrieked Salensus Oll. "Fool! John Carter is a white
man. This fellow be as yellow as myself. John Carter's face is
smooth--Matai Shang has described him to me. This prisoner has
a beard and mustache as large and black as any in Okar. Quick,
guardsmen, to the pits with the black maniac who wishes to throw
his life away for a poor joke upon your ruler!"

"Hold!" cried Thurid, and springing forward before I could guess
his intention, he had grasped my beard and ripped the whole false
fabric from my face and head, revealing my smooth, tanned skin
beneath and my close-cropped black hair.

Instantly pandemonium reigned in the audience chamber of Salensus
Oll. Warriors pressed forward with drawn blades, thinking that I
might be contemplating the assassination of the Jeddak of Jeddaks;
while others, out of curiosity to see one whose name was familiar
from pole to pole, crowded behind their fellows.

As my identity was revealed I saw Dejah Thoris spring to her
feet--amazement writ large upon her face--and then through that
jam of armed men she forced her way before any could prevent. A
moment only and she was before me with outstretched arms and eyes
filled with the light of her great love.

"John Carter! John Carter!" she cried as I folded her to my breast,
and then of a sudden I knew why she had denied me in the garden
beneath the tower.

What a fool I had been! Expecting that she would penetrate the
marvelous disguise that had been wrought for me by the barber of
Marentina! She had not known me, that was all; and when she saw
the sign of love from a stranger she was offended and righteously
indignant. Indeed, but I had been a fool.

"And it was you," she cried, "who spoke to me from the tower! How
could I dream that my beloved Virginian lay behind that fierce
beard and that yellow skin?"

She had been wont to call me her Virginian as a term of endearment,
for she knew that I loved the sound of that beautiful name, made a
thousand times more beautiful and hallowed by her dear lips, and as
I heard it again after all those long years my eyes became dimmed
with tears and my voice choked with emotion.

But an instant did I crush that dear form to me ere Salensus Oll,
trembling with rage and jealousy, shouldered his way to us.

"Seize the man," he cried to his warriors, and a hundred ruthless
hands tore us apart.

Well it was for the nobles of the court of Okar that John Carter
had been disarmed. As it was, a dozen of them felt the weight of
my clenched fists, and I had fought my way half up the steps before
the throne to which Salensus Oll had carried Dejah Thoris ere ever
they could stop me.

Then I went down, fighting, beneath a half-hundred warriors; but
before they had battered me into unconsciousness I heard that from
the lips of Dejah Thoris that made all my suffering well worth
while.

Standing there beside the great tyrant, who clutched her by the
arm, she pointed to where I fought alone against such awful odds.

"Think you, Salensus Oll, that the wife of such as he is," she
cried, "would ever dishonor his memory, were he a thousand times
dead, by mating with a lesser mortal? Lives there upon any world
such another as John Carter, Prince of Helium? Lives there another
man who could fight his way back and forth across a warlike planet,
facing savage beasts and hordes of savage men, for the love of a
woman?

"I, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, am his. He fought for me
and won me. If you be a brave man you will honor the bravery that
is his, and you will not kill him. Make him a slave if you will,
Salensus Oll; but spare his life. I would rather be a slave with
such as he than be Queen of Okar."

"Neither slave nor queen dictates to Salensus Oll," replied the
Jeddak of Jeddaks. "John Carter shall die a natural death in the
Pit of Plenty, and the day he dies Dejah Thoris shall become my
queen."

I did not hear her reply, for it was then that a blow upon my
head brought unconsciousness, and when I recovered my senses only
a handful of guardsmen remained in the audience chamber with me.
As I opened my eyes they goaded me with the points of their swords
and bade me rise.

Then they led me through long corridors to a court far toward the
center of the palace.

In the center of the court was a deep pit, near the edge of which
stood half a dozen other guardsmen, awaiting me. One of them
carried a long rope in his hands, which he commenced to make ready
as we approached.

We had come to within fifty feet of these men when I felt a sudden
strange and rapid pricking sensation in one of my fingers.

For a moment I was nonplused by the odd feeling, and then there
came to me recollection of that which in the stress of my adventure
I had entirely forgotten--the gift ring of Prince Talu of Marentina.

Instantly I looked toward the group we were nearing, at the same
time raising my left hand to my forehead, that the ring might be
visible to one who sought it. Simultaneously one of the waiting
warriors raised his left hand, ostensibly to brush back his hair,
and upon one of his fingers I saw the duplicate of my own ring.

A quick look of intelligence passed between us, after which I kept
my eyes turned away from the warrior and did not look at him again,
for fear that I might arouse the suspicion of the Okarians. When
we reached the edge of the pit I saw that it was very deep, and
presently I realized I was soon to judge just how far it extended
below the surface of the court, for he who held the rope passed it
about my body in such a way that it could be released from above
at any time; and then, as all the warriors grasped it, he pushed
me forward, and I fell into the yawning abyss.

After the first jerk as I reached the end of the rope that had
been paid out to let me fall below the pit's edge they lowered me
quickly but smoothly. The moment before the plunge, while two or
three of the men had been assisting in adjusting the rope about
me, one of them had brought his mouth close to my cheek, and in
the brief interval before I was cast into the forbidding hole he
breathed a single word into my ear:

"Courage!"

The pit, which my imagination had pictured as bottomless, proved
to be not more than a hundred feet in depth; but as its walls were
smoothly polished it might as well have been a thousand feet, for
I could never hope to escape without outside assistance.

For a day I was left in darkness; and then, quite suddenly, a
brilliant light illumined my strange cell. I was reasonably hungry
and thirsty by this time, not having tasted food or drink since
the day prior to my incarceration.

To my amazement I found the sides of the pit, that I had thought
smooth, lined with shelves, upon which were the most delicious
viands and liquid refreshments that Okar afforded.

With an exclamation of delight I sprang forward to partake of
some of the welcome food, but ere ever I reached it the light was
extinguished, and, though I groped my way about the chamber, my
hands came in contact with nothing beside the smooth, hard wall
that I had felt on my first examination of my prison.

Immediately the pangs of hunger and thirst began to assail me.
Where before I had had but a mild craving for food and drink, I now
actually suffered for want of it, and all because of the tantalizing
sight that I had had of food almost within my grasp.

Once more darkness and silence enveloped me, a silence that was
broken only by a single mocking laugh.

For another day nothing occurred to break the monotony of my
imprisonment or relieve the suffering superinduced by hunger and
thirst. Slowly the pangs became less keen, as suffering deadened
the activity of certain nerves; and then the light flashed on once
again, and before me stood an array of new and tempting dishes,
with great bottles of clear water and flagons of refreshing wine,
upon the outside of which the cold sweat of condensation stood.

Again, with the hunger madness of a wild beast, I sprang forward
to seize those tempting dishes; but, as before, the light went out
and I came to a sudden stop against a hard wall.

Then the mocking laugh rang out for a second time.

The Pit of Plenty!

Ah, what a cruel mind must have devised this exquisite, hellish
torture! Day after day was the thing repeated, until I was on
the verge of madness; and then, as I had done in the pits of the
Warhoons, I took a new, firm hold upon my reason and forced it back
into the channels of sanity.

By sheer will-power I regained control over my tottering mentality,
and so successful was I that the next time that the light came I
sat quite still and looked indifferently at the fresh and tempting
food almost within my reach. Glad I was that I had done so, for
it gave me an opportunity to solve the seeming mystery of those
vanishing banquets.

As I made no move to reach the food, the torturers left the light
turned on in the hope that at last I could refrain no longer from
giving them the delicious thrill of enjoyment that my former futile
efforts to obtain it had caused.

And as I sat scrutinizing the laden shelves I presently saw how
the thing was accomplished, and so simple was it that I wondered I
had not guessed it before. The wall of my prison was of clearest
glass--behind the glass were the tantalizing viands.

After nearly an hour the light went out, but this time there was
no mocking laughter--at least not upon the part of my tormentors;
but I, to be at quits with them, gave a low laugh that none might
mistake for the cackle of a maniac.

Nine days passed, and I was weak from hunger and thirst, but no
longer suffering--I was past that. Then, down through the darkness
above, a little parcel fell to the floor at my side.

Indifferently I groped for it, thinking it but some new invention
of my jailers to add to my sufferings.

At last I found it--a tiny package wrapped in paper, at the end of
a strong and slender cord. As I opened it a few lozenges fell to
the floor. As I gathered them up, feeling of them and smelling
of them, I discovered that they were tablets of concentrated food
such as are quite common in all parts of Barsoom.

Poison! I thought.

Well, what of it? Why not end my misery now rather than drag out
a few more wretched days in this dark pit? Slowly I raised one of
the little pellets to my lips.

"Good-bye, my Dejah Thoris!" I breathed. "I have lived for you
and fought for you, and now my next dearest wish is to be realized,
for I shall die for you," and, taking the morsel in my mouth, I
devoured it.

One by one I ate them all, nor ever did anything taste better than
those tiny bits of nourishment, within which I knew must lie the
seeds of death--possibly of some hideous, torturing death.

As I sat quietly upon the floor of my prison, waiting for the end,
my fingers by accident came in contact with the bit of paper in
which the things had been wrapped; and as I idly played with it,
my mind roaming far back into the past, that I might live again for
a few brief moments before I died some of the many happy moments
of a long and happy life, I became aware of strange protuberances
upon the smooth surface of the parchment-like substance in my hands.

For a time they carried no special significance to my mind--I merely
was mildly wondrous that they were there; but at last they seemed
to take form, and then I realized that there was but a single line
of them, like writing.

Now, more interestedly, my fingers traced and retraced them. There
were four separate and distinct combinations of raised lines. Could
it be that these were four words, and that they were intended to
carry a message to me?

The more I thought of it the more excited I became, until my fingers
raced madly back and forth over those bewildering little hills and
valleys upon that bit of paper.

But I could make nothing of them, and at last I decided that my very
haste was preventing me from solving the mystery. Then I took it
more slowly. Again and again my forefinger traced the first of
those four combinations.

Martian writing is rather difficult to explain to an Earth man--it
is something of a cross between shorthand and picture-writing, and
is an entirely different language from the spoken language of Mars.

Upon Barsoom there is but a single oral language.

It is spoken today by every race and nation, just as it was at
the beginning of human life upon Barsoom. It has grown with the
growth of the planet's learning and scientific achievements, but
so ingenious a thing it is that new words to express new thoughts
or describe new conditions or discoveries form themselves--no other
word could explain the thing that a new word is required for other
than the word that naturally falls to it, and so, no matter how far
removed two nations or races, their spoken languages are identical.

Not so their written languages, however. No two nations have the
same written language, and often cities of the same nation have a
written language that differs greatly from that of the nation to
which they belong.

Thus it was that the signs upon the paper, if in reality they were
words, baffled me for some time; but at last I made out the first
one.

It was "courage," and it was written in the letters of Marentina.

Courage!

That was the word the yellow guardsman had whispered in my ear as
I stood upon the verge of the Pit of Plenty.

The message must be from him, and he I knew was a friend.

With renewed hope I bent my every energy to the deciphering of the
balance of the message, and at last success rewarded my endeavor--I
had read the four words:

"Courage! Follow the rope."




"FOLLOW THE ROPE"


What could it mean?

"Follow the rope." What rope?

Presently I recalled the cord that had been attached to the parcel
when it fell at my side, and after a little groping my hand came in
contact with it again. It depended from above, and when I pulled
upon it I discovered that it was rigidly fastened, possibly at the
pit's mouth.

Upon examination I found that the cord, though small, was amply
able to sustain the weight of several men. Then I made another
discovery--there was a second message knotted in the rope at about
the height of my head. This I deciphered more easily, now that
the key was mine.

"Bring the rope with you. Beyond the knots lies danger."

That was all there was to this message. It was evidently hastily
formed--an afterthought.

I did not pause longer than to learn the contents of the second
message, and, though I was none too sure of the meaning of the
final admonition, "Beyond the knots lies danger," yet I was sure
that here before me lay an avenue of escape, and that the sooner
I took advantage of it the more likely was I to win to liberty.

At least, I could be but little worse off than I had been in the
Pit of Plenty.

I was to find, however, ere I was well out of that damnable hole
that I might have been very much worse off had I been compelled to
remain there another two minutes.

It had taken me about that length of time to ascend some fifty feet
above the bottom when a noise above attracted my attention. To my
chagrin I saw that the covering of the pit was being removed far
above me, and in the light of the courtyard beyond I saw a number
of yellow warriors.

Could it be that I was laboriously working my way into some new
trap? Were the messages spurious, after all? And then, just as
my hope and courage had ebbed to their lowest, I saw two things.

One was the body of a huge, struggling, snarling apt being lowered
over the side of the pit toward me, and the other was an aperture
in the side of the shaft--an aperture larger than a man's body,
into which my rope led.

Just as I scrambled into the dark hole before me the apt passed
me, reaching out with his mighty hands to clutch me, and snapping,
growling, and roaring in a most frightful manner.

Plainly now I saw the end for which Salensus Oll had destined me.
After first torturing me with starvation he had caused this fierce
beast to be lowered into my prison to finish the work that the
jeddak's hellish imagination had conceived.

And then another truth flashed upon me--I had lived nine days of
the allotted ten which must intervene before Salensus Oll could
make Dejah Thoris his queen. The purpose of the apt was to insure
my death before the tenth day.

I almost laughed aloud as I thought how Salensus Oll's measure of
safety was to aid in defeating the very end he sought, for when
they discovered that the apt was alone in the Pit of Plenty they
could not know but that he had completely devoured me, and so no
suspicion of my escape would cause a search to be made for me.

Coiling the rope that had carried me thus far upon my strange
journey, I sought for the other end, but found that as I followed
it forward it extended always before me. So this was the meaning
of the words: "Follow the rope."

The tunnel through which I crawled was low and dark. I had followed
it for several hundred yards when I felt a knot beneath my fingers.
"Beyond the knots lies danger."

Now I went with the utmost caution, and a moment later a sharp turn
in the tunnel brought me to an opening into a large, brilliantly
lighted chamber.

The trend of the tunnel I had been traversing had been slightly
upward, and from this I judged that the chamber into which I now
found myself looking must be either on the first floor of the palace
or directly beneath the first floor.

Upon the opposite wall were many strange instruments and devices,
and in the center of the room stood a long table, at which two men
were seated in earnest conversation.

He who faced me was a yellow man--a little, wizened-up, pasty-faced
old fellow with great eyes that showed the white round the entire
circumference of the iris.

His companion was a black man, and I did not need to see his face
to know that it was Thurid, for there was no other of the First
Born north of the ice-barrier.

Thurid was speaking as I came within hearing of the men's voices.

"Solan," he was saying, "there is no risk and the reward is great.
You know that you hate Salensus Oll and that nothing would please
you more than to thwart him in some cherished plan. There be
nothing that he more cherishes today than the idea of wedding the
beautiful Princess of Helium; but I, too, want her, and with your
help I may win her.

"You need not more than step from this room for an instant when
I give you the signal. I will do the rest, and then, when I am
gone, you may come and throw the great switch back into its place,
and all will be as before. I need but an hour's start to be safe
beyond the devilish power that you control in this hidden chamber
beneath the palace of your master. See how easy," and with the
words the black dator rose from his seat and, crossing the room,
laid his hand upon a large, burnished lever that protruded from
the opposite wall.

"No! No!" cried the little old man, springing after him, with a wild
shriek. "Not that one! Not that one! That controls the sunray
tanks, and should you pull it too far down, all Kadabra would be
consumed by heat before I could replace it. Come away! Come away!
You know not with what mighty powers you play. This is the lever
that you seek. Note well the symbol inlaid in white upon its ebon
surface."

Thurid approached and examined the handle of the lever.

"Ah, a magnet," he said. "I will remember. It is settled then I
take it," he continued.

The old man hesitated. A look of combined greed and apprehension
overspread his none too beautiful features.

"Double the figure," he said. "Even that were all too small an amount
for the service you ask. Why, I risk my life by even entertaining
you here within the forbidden precincts of my station. Should
Salensus Oll learn of it he would have me thrown to the apts before
the day was done."

"He dare not do that, and you know it full well, Solan," contradicted
the black. "Too great a power of life and death you hold over the
people of Kadabra for Salensus Oll ever to risk threatening you
with death. Before ever his minions could lay their hands upon you,
you might seize this very lever from which you have just warned me
and wipe out the entire city."

"And myself into the bargain," said Solan, with a shudder.

"But if you were to die, anyway, you would find the nerve to do
it," replied Thurid.

"Yes," muttered Solan, "I have often thought upon that very thing.
Well, First Born, is your red princess worth the price I ask for
my services, or will you go without her and see her in the arms of
Salensus Oll tomorrow night?"

"Take your price, yellow man," replied Thurid, with an oath. "Half
now and the balance when you have fulfilled your contract."

With that the dator threw a well-filled money-pouch upon the table.

Solan opened the pouch and with trembling fingers counted its contents.
His weird eyes assumed a greedy expression, and his unkempt beard
and mustache twitched with the muscles of his mouth and chin. It
was quite evident from his very mannerism that Thurid had keenly
guessed the man's weakness--even the clawlike, clutching movement
of the fingers betokened the avariciousness of the miser.

Having satisfied himself that the amount was correct, Solan replaced
the money in the pouch and rose from the table.

"Now," he said, "are you quite sure that you know the way to your
destination? You must travel quickly to cover the ground to the
cave and from thence beyond the Great Power, all within a brief
hour, for no more dare I spare you."

"Let me repeat it to you," said Thurid, "that you may see if I be
letter-perfect."

"Proceed," replied Solan.

"Through yonder door," he commenced, pointing to a door at the far
end of the apartment, "I follow a corridor, passing three diverging
corridors upon my right; then into the fourth right-hand corridor
straight to where three corridors meet; here again I follow to the
right, hugging the left wall closely to avoid the pit.

"At the end of this corridor I shall come to a spiral runway, which
I must follow down instead of up; after that the way is along but
a single branchless corridor. Am I right?"

"Quite right, Dator," answered Solan; "and now begone. Already
have you tempted fate too long within this forbidden place."

"Tonight, or tomorrow, then, you may expect the signal," said
Thurid, rising to go.

"Tonight, or tomorrow," repeated Solan, and as the door closed
behind his guest the old man continued to mutter as he turned back
to the table, where he again dumped the contents of the money-pouch,
running his fingers through the heap of shining metal; piling the
coins into little towers; counting, recounting, and fondling the
wealth the while he muttered on and on in a crooning undertone.

Presently his fingers ceased their play; his eyes popped wider
than ever as they fastened upon the door through which Thurid
had disappeared. The croon changed to a querulous muttering, and
finally to an ugly growl.

Then the old man rose from the table, shaking his fist at the closed
door. Now he raised his voice, and his words came distinctly.

"Fool!" he muttered. "Think you that for your happiness Solan will
give up his life? If you escaped, Salensus Oll would know that
only through my connivance could you have succeeded. Then would
he send for me. What would you have me do? Reduce the city and
myself to ashes? No, fool, there is a better way--a better way
for Solan to keep thy money and be revenged upon Salensus Oll."

He laughed in a nasty, cackling note.

"Poor fool! You may throw the great switch that will give you
the freedom of the air of Okar, and then, in fatuous security, go
on with thy red princess to the freedom of--death. When you have
passed beyond this chamber in your flight, what can prevent Solan
replacing the switch as it was before your vile hand touched it?
Nothing; and then the Guardian of the North will claim you and
your woman, and Salensus Oll, when he sees your dead bodies, will
never dream that the hand of Solan had aught to do with the thing."

Then his voice dropped once more into mutterings that I could not
translate, but I had heard enough to cause me to guess a great deal
more, and I thanked the kind Providence that had led me to this
chamber at a time so filled with importance to Dejah Thoris and
myself as this.

But how to pass the old man now! The cord, almost invisible upon
the floor, stretched straight across the apartment to a door upon
the far side.

There was no other way of which I knew, nor could I afford to
ignore the advice to "follow the rope." I must cross this room,
but however I should accomplish it undetected with that old man in
the very center of it baffled me.

Of course I might have sprung in upon him and with my bare hands
silenced him forever, but I had heard enough to convince me that
with him alive the knowledge that I had gained might serve me at
some future moment, while should I kill him and another be stationed
in his place Thurid would not come hither with Dejah Thoris, as
was quite evidently his intention.

As I stood in the dark shadow of the tunnel's end racking my brain
for a feasible plan the while I watched, catlike, the old man's
every move, he took up the money-pouch and crossed to one end of
the apartment, where, bending to his knees, he fumbled with a panel
in the wall.

Instantly I guessed that here was the hiding place in which he
hoarded his wealth, and while he bent there, his back toward me,
I entered the chamber upon tiptoe, and with the utmost stealth
essayed to reach the opposite side before he should complete his
task and turn again toward the room's center.

Scarcely thirty steps, all told, must I take, and yet it seemed to
my overwrought imagination that that farther wall was miles away;
but at last I reached it, nor once had I taken my eyes from the
back of the old miser's head.

He did not turn until my hand was upon the button that controlled
the door through which my way led, and then he turned away from me
as I passed through and gently closed the door.

For an instant I paused, my ear close to the panel, to learn if he
had suspected aught, but as no sound of pursuit came from within
I wheeled and made my way along the new corridor, following the
rope, which I coiled and brought with me as I advanced.

But a short distance farther on I came to the rope's end at a point
where five corridors met. What was I to do? Which way should I
turn? I was nonplused.

A careful examination of the end of the rope revealed the fact that
it had been cleanly cut with some sharp instrument. This fact and
the words that had cautioned me that danger lay beyond the KNOTS
convinced me that the rope had been severed since my friend had
placed it as my guide, for I had but passed a single knot, whereas
there had evidently been two or more in the entire length of the
cord.

Now, indeed, was I in a pretty fix, for neither did I know which
avenue to follow nor when danger lay directly in my path; but there
was nothing else to be done than follow one of the corridors, for
I could gain nothing by remaining where I was.

So I chose the central opening, and passed on into its gloomy depths
with a prayer upon my lips.

The floor of the tunnel rose rapidly as I advanced, and a moment
later the way came to an abrupt end before a heavy door.

I could hear nothing beyond, and, with my accustomed rashness, pushed
the portal wide to step into a room filled with yellow warriors.

The first to see me opened his eyes wide in astonishment, and at
the same instant I felt the tingling sensation in my finger that
denoted the presence of a friend of the ring.

Then others saw me, and there was a concerted rush to lay hands upon
me, for these were all members of the palace guard--men familiar
with my face.

The first to reach me was the wearer of the mate to my strange
ring, and as he came close he whispered: "Surrender to me!" then
in a loud voice shouted: "You are my prisoner, white man," and
menaced me with his two weapons.

And so John Carter, Prince of Helium, meekly surrendered to a
single antagonist. The others now swarmed about us, asking many
questions, but I would not talk to them, and finally my captor
announced that he would lead me back to my cell.

An officer ordered several other warriors to accompany him, and a
moment later we were retracing the way I had just come. My friend
walked close beside me, asking many silly questions about the
country from which I had come, until finally his fellows paid no
further attention to him or his gabbling.

Gradually, as he spoke, he lowered his voice, so that presently
he was able to converse with me in a low tone without attracting
attention. His ruse was a clever one, and showed that Talu had
not misjudged the man's fitness for the dangerous duty upon which
he was detailed.

When he had fully assured himself that the other guardsmen were not
listening, he asked me why I had not followed the rope, and when
I told him that it had ended at the five corridors he said that it
must have been cut by someone in need of a piece of rope, for he
was sure that "the stupid Kadabrans would never have guessed its
purpose."

Before we had reached the spot from which the five corridors diverge
my Marentinian friend had managed to drop to the rear of the little
column with me, and when we came in sight of the branching ways he
whispered:

"Run up the first upon the right. It leads to the watchtower upon
the south wall. I will direct the pursuit up the next corridor,"
and with that he gave me a great shove into the dark mouth of the
tunnel, at the same time crying out in simulated pain and alarm as
he threw himself upon the floor as though I had felled him with a
blow.

From behind the voices of the excited guardsmen came reverberating
along the corridor, suddenly growing fainter as Talu's spy led them
up the wrong passageway in fancied pursuit.

As I ran for my life through the dark galleries beneath the palace of
Salensus Oll I must indeed have presented a remarkable appearance
had there been any to note it, for though death loomed large
about me, my face was split by a broad grin as I thought of the
resourcefulness of the nameless hero of Marentina to whom I owed
my life.

Of such stuff are the men of my beloved Helium, and when I meet
another of their kind, of whatever race or color, my heart goes
out to him as it did now to my new friend who had risked his life
for me simply because I wore the mate to the ring his ruler had
put upon his finger.

The corridor along which I ran led almost straight for a considerable
distance, terminating at the foot of a spiral runway, up which
I proceeded to emerge presently into a circular chamber upon the
first floor of a tower.

In this apartment a dozen red slaves were employed polishing or
repairing the weapons of the yellow men. The walls of the room
were lined with racks in which were hundreds of straight and hooked
swords, javelins, and daggers. It was evidently an armory. There
were but three warriors guarding the workers.

My eyes took in the entire scene at a glance. Here were weapons
in plenty! Here were sinewy red warriors to wield them!

And here now was John Carter, Prince of Helium, in need both of
weapons and warriors!

As I stepped into the apartment, guards and prisoners saw me
simultaneously.

Close to the entrance where I stood was a rack of straight swords,
and as my hand closed upon the hilt of one of them my eyes fell
upon the faces of two of the prisoners who worked side by side.

One of the guards started toward me. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"What do you here?"

"I come for Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, and his son, Mors Kajak,"
I cried, pointing to the two red prisoners, who had now sprung to
their feet, wide-eyed in astonished recognition.

"Rise, red men! Before we die let us leave a memorial in the palace
of Okar's tyrant that will stand forever in the annals of Kadabra
to the honor and glory of Helium," for I had seen that all the
prisoners there were men of Tardos Mors's navy.

Then the first guardsman was upon me and the fight was on, but
scarce did we engage ere, to my horror, I saw that the red slaves
were shackled to the floor.





Next: The Magnet Switch

Previous: In Durance



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