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The Plant Men

From: The Gods Of Mars

As I stood upon the bluff before my cottage on that clear cold night in
the early part of March, 1886, the noble Hudson flowing like the grey
and silent spectre of a dead river below me, I felt again the strange,
compelling influence of the mighty god of war, my beloved Mars, which
for ten long and lonesome years I had implored with outstretched arms
to carry me back to my lost love.

Not since that other March night in 1866, when I had stood without that
Arizona cave in which my still and lifeless body lay wrapped in the
similitude of earthly death had I felt the irresistible attraction of
the god of my profession.

With arms outstretched toward the red eye of the great star I stood
praying for a return of that strange power which twice had drawn me
through the immensity of space, praying as I had prayed on a thousand
nights before during the long ten years that I had waited and hoped.

Suddenly a qualm of nausea swept over me, my senses swam, my knees gave
beneath me and I pitched headlong to the ground upon the very verge of
the dizzy bluff.

Instantly my brain cleared and there swept back across the threshold of
my memory the vivid picture of the horrors of that ghostly Arizona
cave; again, as on that far-gone night, my muscles refused to respond
to my will and again, as though even here upon the banks of the placid
Hudson, I could hear the awful moans and rustling of the fearsome thing
which had lurked and threatened me from the dark recesses of the cave,
I made the same mighty and superhuman effort to break the bonds of the
strange anaesthesia which held me, and again came the sharp click as of
the sudden parting of a taut wire, and I stood naked and free beside
the staring, lifeless thing that had so recently pulsed with the warm,
red life-blood of John Carter.

With scarcely a parting glance I turned my eyes again toward Mars,
lifted my hands toward his lurid rays, and waited.

Nor did I have long to wait; for scarce had I turned ere I shot with
the rapidity of thought into the awful void before me. There was the
same instant of unthinkable cold and utter darkness that I had
experienced twenty years before, and then I opened my eyes in another
world, beneath the burning rays of a hot sun, which beat through a tiny
opening in the dome of the mighty forest in which I lay.

The scene that met my eyes was so un-Martian that my heart sprang to my
throat as the sudden fear swept through me that I had been aimlessly
tossed upon some strange planet by a cruel fate.

Why not? What guide had I through the trackless waste of
interplanetary space? What assurance that I might not as well be
hurtled to some far-distant star of another solar system, as to Mars?

I lay upon a close-cropped sward of red grasslike vegetation, and about
me stretched a grove of strange and beautiful trees, covered with huge
and gorgeous blossoms and filled with brilliant, voiceless birds. I
call them birds since they were winged, but mortal eye ne'er rested on
such odd, unearthly shapes.

The vegetation was similar to that which covers the lawns of the red
Martians of the great waterways, but the trees and birds were unlike
anything that I had ever seen upon Mars, and then through the further
trees I could see that most un-Martian of all sights--an open sea, its
blue waters shimmering beneath the brazen sun.

As I rose to investigate further I experienced the same ridiculous
catastrophe that had met my first attempt to walk under Martian
conditions. The lesser attraction of this smaller planet and the
reduced air pressure of its greatly rarefied atmosphere, afforded so
little resistance to my earthly muscles that the ordinary exertion of
the mere act of rising sent me several feet into the air and
precipitated me upon my face in the soft and brilliant grass of this
strange world.

This experience, however, gave me some slightly increased assurance
that, after all, I might indeed be in some, to me, unknown corner of
Mars, and this was very possible since during my ten years' residence
upon the planet I had explored but a comparatively tiny area of its
vast expanse.

I arose again, laughing at my forgetfulness, and soon had mastered once
more the art of attuning my earthly sinews to these changed conditions.

As I walked slowly down the imperceptible slope toward the sea I could
not help but note the park-like appearance of the sward and trees. The
grass was as close-cropped and carpet-like as some old English lawn and
the trees themselves showed evidence of careful pruning to a uniform
height of about fifteen feet from the ground, so that as one turned his
glance in any direction the forest had the appearance at a little
distance of a vast, high-ceiled chamber.

All these evidences of careful and systematic cultivation convinced me
that I had been fortunate enough to make my entry into Mars on this
second occasion through the domain of a civilized people and that when
I should find them I would be accorded the courtesy and protection that
my rank as a Prince of the house of Tardos Mors entitled me to.

The trees of the forest attracted my deep admiration as I proceeded
toward the sea. Their great stems, some of them fully a hundred feet
in diameter, attested their prodigious height, which I could only guess
at, since at no point could I penetrate their dense foliage above me to
more than sixty or eighty feet.

As far aloft as I could see the stems and branches and twigs were as
smooth and as highly polished as the newest of American-made pianos.
The wood of some of the trees was as black as ebony, while their
nearest neighbours might perhaps gleam in the subdued light of the
forest as clear and white as the finest china, or, again, they were
azure, scarlet, yellow, or deepest purple.

And in the same way was the foliage as gay and variegated as the stems,
while the blooms that clustered thick upon them may not be described in
any earthly tongue, and indeed might challenge the language of the gods.

As I neared the confines of the forest I beheld before me and between
the grove and the open sea, a broad expanse of meadow land, and as I
was about to emerge from the shadows of the trees a sight met my eyes
that banished all romantic and poetic reflection upon the beauties of
the strange landscape.

To my left the sea extended as far as the eye could reach, before me
only a vague, dim line indicated its further shore, while at my right a
mighty river, broad, placid, and majestic, flowed between scarlet banks
to empty into the quiet sea before me.

At a little distance up the river rose mighty perpendicular bluffs,
from the very base of which the great river seemed to rise.

But it was not these inspiring and magnificent evidences of Nature's
grandeur that took my immediate attention from the beauties of the
forest. It was the sight of a score of figures moving slowly about the
meadow near the bank of the mighty river.

Odd, grotesque shapes they were; unlike anything that I had ever seen
upon Mars, and yet, at a distance, most manlike in appearance. The
larger specimens appeared to be about ten or twelve feet in height when
they stood erect, and to be proportioned as to torso and lower
extremities precisely as is earthly man.

Their arms, however, were very short, and from where I stood seemed as
though fashioned much after the manner of an elephant's trunk, in that
they moved in sinuous and snakelike undulations, as though entirely
without bony structure, or if there were bones it seemed that they must
be vertebral in nature.

As I watched them from behind the stem of a huge tree, one of the
creatures moved slowly in my direction, engaged in the occupation that
seemed to be the principal business of each of them, and which
consisted in running their oddly shaped hands over the surface of the
sward, for what purpose I could not determine.

As he approached quite close to me I obtained an excellent view of him,
and though I was later to become better acquainted with his kind, I may
say that that single cursory examination of this awful travesty on
Nature would have proved quite sufficient to my desires had I been a
free agent. The fastest flier of the Heliumetic Navy could not quickly
enough have carried me far from this hideous creature.

Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a broad
band of white which encircled its protruding, single eye: an eye that
was all dead white--pupil, iris, and ball.

Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of its
blank face; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I could
think of other than a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to

Below this repulsive orifice the face was quite blank to the chin, for
the thing had no mouth that I could discover.

The head, with the exception of the face, was covered by a tangled mass
of jet-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each hair was
about the bigness of a large angleworm, and as the thing moved the
muscles of its scalp this awful head-covering seemed to writhe and
wriggle and crawl about the fearsome face as though indeed each
separate hair was endowed with independent life.

The body and the legs were as symmetrically human as Nature could have
fashioned them, and the feet, too, were human in shape, but of
monstrous proportions. From heel to toe they were fully three feet
long, and very flat and very broad.

As it came quite close to me I discovered that its strange movements,
running its odd hands over the surface of the turf, were the result of
its peculiar method of feeding, which consists in cropping off the
tender vegetation with its razorlike talons and sucking it up from its
two mouths, which lie one in the palm of each hand, through its
arm-like throats.

In addition to the features which I have already described, the beast
was equipped with a massive tail about six feet in length, quite round
where it joined the body, but tapering to a flat, thin blade toward the
end, which trailed at right angles to the ground.

By far the most remarkable feature of this most remarkable creature,
however, were the two tiny replicas of it, each about six inches in
length, which dangled, one on either side, from its armpits. They were
suspended by a small stem which seemed to grow from the exact tops of
their heads to where it connected them with the body of the adult.

Whether they were the young, or merely portions of a composite
creature, I did not know.

As I had been scrutinizing this weird monstrosity the balance of the
herd had fed quite close to me and I now saw that while many had the
smaller specimens dangling from them, not all were thus equipped, and I
further noted that the little ones varied in size from what appeared to
be but tiny unopened buds an inch in diameter through various stages of
development to the full-fledged and perfectly formed creature of ten to
twelve inches in length.

Feeding with the herd were many of the little fellows not much larger
than those which remained attached to their parents, and from the young
of that size the herd graded up to the immense adults.

Fearsome-looking as they were, I did not know whether to fear them or
not, for they did not seem to be particularly well equipped for
fighting, and I was on the point of stepping from my hiding-place and
revealing myself to them to note the effect upon them of the sight of a
man when my rash resolve was, fortunately for me, nipped in the bud by
a strange shrieking wail, which seemed to come from the direction of
the bluffs at my right.

Naked and unarmed, as I was, my end would have been both speedy and
horrible at the hands of these cruel creatures had I had time to put my
resolve into execution, but at the moment of the shriek each member of
the herd turned in the direction from which the sound seemed to come,
and at the same instant every particular snake-like hair upon their
heads rose stiffly perpendicular as if each had been a sentient
organism looking or listening for the source or meaning of the wail.
And indeed the latter proved to be the truth, for this strange growth
upon the craniums of the plant men of Barsoom represents the thousand
ears of these hideous creatures, the last remnant of the strange race
which sprang from the original Tree of Life.

Instantly every eye turned toward one member of the herd, a large
fellow who evidently was the leader. A strange purring sound issued
from the mouth in the palm of one of his hands, and at the same time he
started rapidly toward the bluff, followed by the entire herd.

Their speed and method of locomotion were both remarkable, springing as
they did in great leaps of twenty or thirty feet, much after the manner
of a kangaroo.

They were rapidly disappearing when it occurred to me to follow them,
and so, hurling caution to the winds, I sprang across the meadow in
their wake with leaps and bounds even more prodigious than their own,
for the muscles of an athletic Earth man produce remarkable results
when pitted against the lesser gravity and air pressure of Mars.

Their way led directly towards the apparent source of the river at the
base of the cliffs, and as I neared this point I found the meadow
dotted with huge boulders that the ravages of time had evidently
dislodged from the towering crags above.

For this reason I came quite close to the cause of the disturbance
before the scene broke upon my horrified gaze. As I topped a great
boulder I saw the herd of plant men surrounding a little group of
perhaps five or six green men and women of Barsoom.

That I was indeed upon Mars I now had no doubt, for here were members
of the wild hordes that people the dead sea bottoms and deserted cities
of that dying planet.

Here were the great males towering in all the majesty of their imposing
height; here were the gleaming white tusks protruding from their
massive lower jaws to a point near the centre of their foreheads, the
laterally placed, protruding eyes with which they could look forward or
backward, or to either side without turning their heads, here the
strange antennae-like ears rising from the tops of their foreheads; and
the additional pair of arms extending from midway between the shoulders
and the hips.

Even without the glossy green hide and the metal ornaments which
denoted the tribes to which they belonged, I would have known them on
the instant for what they were, for where else in all the universe is
their like duplicated?

There were two men and four females in the party and their ornaments
denoted them as members of different hordes, a fact which tended to
puzzle me infinitely, since the various hordes of green men of Barsoom
are eternally at deadly war with one another, and never, except on that
single historic instance when the great Tars Tarkas of Thark gathered a
hundred and fifty thousand green warriors from several hordes to march
upon the doomed city of Zodanga to rescue Dejah Thoris, Princess of
Helium, from the clutches of Than Kosis, had I seen green Martians of
different hordes associated in other than mortal combat.

But now they stood back to back, facing, in wide-eyed amazement, the
very evidently hostile demonstrations of a common enemy.

Both men and women were armed with long-swords and daggers, but no
firearms were in evidence, else it had been short shrift for the
gruesome plant men of Barsoom.

Presently the leader of the plant men charged the little party, and his
method of attack was as remarkable as it was effective, and by its very
strangeness was the more potent, since in the science of the green
warriors there was no defence for this singular manner of attack, the
like of which it soon was evident to me they were as unfamiliar with as
they were with the monstrosities which confronted them.

The plant man charged to within a dozen feet of the party and then,
with a bound, rose as though to pass directly above their heads. His
powerful tail was raised high to one side, and as he passed close above
them he brought it down in one terrific sweep that crushed a green
warrior's skull as though it had been an eggshell.

The balance of the frightful herd was now circling rapidly and with
bewildering speed about the little knot of victims. Their prodigious
bounds and the shrill, screeching purr of their uncanny mouths were
well calculated to confuse and terrorize their prey, so that as two of
them leaped simultaneously from either side, the mighty sweep of those
awful tails met with no resistance and two more green Martians went
down to an ignoble death.

There were now but one warrior and two females left, and it seemed that
it could be but a matter of seconds ere these, also, lay dead upon the
scarlet sward.

But as two more of the plant men charged, the warrior, who was now
prepared by the experiences of the past few minutes, swung his mighty
long-sword aloft and met the hurtling bulk with a clean cut that clove
one of the plant men from chin to groin.

The other, however, dealt a single blow with his cruel tail that laid
both of the females crushed corpses upon the ground.

As the green warrior saw the last of his companions go down and at the
same time perceived that the entire herd was charging him in a body, he
rushed boldly to meet them, swinging his long-sword in the terrific
manner that I had so often seen the men of his kind wield it in their
ferocious and almost continual warfare among their own race.

Cutting and hewing to right and left, he laid an open path straight
through the advancing plant men, and then commenced a mad race for the
forest, in the shelter of which he evidently hoped that he might find a
haven of refuge.

He had turned for that portion of the forest which abutted on the
cliffs, and thus the mad race was taking the entire party farther and
farther from the boulder where I lay concealed.

As I had watched the noble fight which the great warrior had put up
against such enormous odds my heart had swelled in admiration for him,
and acting as I am wont to do, more upon impulse than after mature
deliberation, I instantly sprang from my sheltering rock and bounded
quickly toward the bodies of the dead green Martians, a well-defined
plan of action already formed.

Half a dozen great leaps brought me to the spot, and another instant
saw me again in my stride in quick pursuit of the hideous monsters that
were rapidly gaining on the fleeing warrior, but this time I grasped a
mighty long-sword in my hand and in my heart was the old blood lust of
the fighting man, and a red mist swam before my eyes and I felt my lips
respond to my heart in the old smile that has ever marked me in the
midst of the joy of battle.

Swift as I was I was none too soon, for the green warrior had been
overtaken ere he had made half the distance to the forest, and now he
stood with his back to a boulder, while the herd, temporarily balked,
hissed and screeched about him.

With their single eyes in the centre of their heads and every eye
turned upon their prey, they did not note my soundless approach, so
that I was upon them with my great long-sword and four of them lay dead
ere they knew that I was among them.

For an instant they recoiled before my terrific onslaught, and in that
instant the green warrior rose to the occasion and, springing to my
side, laid to the right and left of him as I had never seen but one
other warrior do, with great circling strokes that formed a figure
eight about him and that never stopped until none stood living to
oppose him, his keen blade passing through flesh and bone and metal as
though each had been alike thin air.

As we bent to the slaughter, far above us rose that shrill, weird cry
which I had heard once before, and which had called the herd to the
attack upon their victims. Again and again it rose, but we were too
much engaged with the fierce and powerful creatures about us to attempt
to search out even with our eyes the author of the horrid notes.

Great tails lashed in frenzied anger about us, razor-like talons cut
our limbs and bodies, and a green and sticky syrup, such as oozes from
a crushed caterpillar, smeared us from head to foot, for every cut and
thrust of our longswords brought spurts of this stuff upon us from the
severed arteries of the plant men, through which it courses in its
sluggish viscidity in lieu of blood.

Once I felt the great weight of one of the monsters upon my back and as
keen talons sank into my flesh I experienced the frightful sensation of
moist lips sucking the lifeblood from the wounds to which the claws
still clung.

I was very much engaged with a ferocious fellow who was endeavouring to
reach my throat from in front, while two more, one on either side, were
lashing viciously at me with their tails.

The green warrior was much put to it to hold his own, and I felt that
the unequal struggle could last but a moment longer when the huge
fellow discovered my plight, and tearing himself from those that
surrounded him, he raked the assailant from my back with a single sweep
of his blade, and thus relieved I had little difficulty with the others.

Once together, we stood almost back to back against the great boulder,
and thus the creatures were prevented from soaring above us to deliver
their deadly blows, and as we were easily their match while they
remained upon the ground, we were making great headway in dispatching
what remained of them when our attention was again attracted by the
shrill wail of the caller above our heads.

This time I glanced up, and far above us upon a little natural balcony
on the face of the cliff stood a strange figure of a man shrieking out
his shrill signal, the while he waved one hand in the direction of the
river's mouth as though beckoning to some one there, and with the other
pointed and gesticulated toward us.

A glance in the direction toward which he was looking was sufficient to
apprise me of his aims and at the same time to fill me with the dread
of dire apprehension, for, streaming in from all directions across the
meadow, from out of the forest, and from the far distance of the flat
land across the river, I could see converging upon us a hundred
different lines of wildly leaping creatures such as we were now engaged
with, and with them some strange new monsters which ran with great
swiftness, now erect and now upon all fours.

"It will be a great death," I said to my companion. "Look!"

As he shot a quick glance in the direction I indicated he smiled.

"We may at least die fighting and as great warriors should, John
Carter," he replied.

We had just finished the last of our immediate antagonists as he spoke,
and I turned in surprised wonderment at the sound of my name.

And there before my astonished eyes I beheld the greatest of the green
men of Barsoom; their shrewdest statesman, their mightiest general, my
great and good friend, Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.

Next: A Forest Battle

Previous: The Sword And The Atopen

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