We ended Part One with Carter being confronted with the fickleness of
the female heart and mind as he learns of Dejah Thoris’s designs to marry
the Prince of Zodanga. For the purpose of the Barsoomian Mythos a more
fitting description of this would be “the Dejah Thoris Effect.”
As mentioned earlier, at the present time in our story, Carter, Tal
Hajus, the Green Martian Jeddak of Thark, and Sab Than, the Red Martian
Prince of Zodanga, are all madly in love with her. We might even add Sola
at this point.
By the time the famous opening trilogy comes to an end in Warlord
of Mars, Thuvia, Princess of Ptarth; Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang;
Matai Shang himself, Hekkador of the Holy Therns; Thurid, Dator of the
Black Pirate First Born; and Salensus Oll, Jeddak of Kadabra, will all
have joined the ranks of Barsoomians madly in love with the Princess of
Helium. Most of them will pay the ultimate price of their lives for their
folly in falling in love with this Barsoomian femme fatale. Only Carter,
Sola, and Thuvia, appear to have survived the trilogy.
Near the end of the Mythos, there will be other victims of love, but
they too will survive: Ul Vas, Jeddak of the Tarids on Thuria (Swords
of Mars); and Rojas of Invak (Llana of Gathol). Yes, I believe
that Dejah Thoris had lesbian tendencies. I believe that she became lovers
with Thuvia and Phaidor in the Temple of the Sun during the six months
they spent together there because it seems right to me. Years later, she
made no complaint when Rojas kissed her fully on the lips in public after
Rojas confessed her love for the Princess.
The reader must never forget that an essential ingredient of the Barsoomian
Mythos is the fact that everyone is naked. For a reader with a normal imagination,
able to imagine everyone being naked all of the time he or she is reading,
then the Mythos is very obviously a Victorian peep show. The peep show
and the French post card were favorite fantasy pastimes before cinema,
and ERB got a first rate education in this male (and sometimes female)
delight at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, aka the Columbian Exposition.
(See ERBzine #1275,
From what can be surmised by the scant data in the Mythos, it appears
that the Dejah Thoris Effect was going on long before Carter arrived on
the planet. We gather as much from a conversation Carter has with his daughter,
Tara of Helium, in Chessmen of Mars, while she sits provocatively
in her father’s naked lap:
“‘Gahan of Gathol has asked permission
to woo you.’
I take this to mean that these wars occurred in the years before Carter’s
advent on Mars – the war with Zodanga lasted less than a year and began
with a Zodangan strategic advantage in numbers and opportunity having little
or nothing to do with the beauty of Dejah Thoris – during the same time
that the Martian Princess obviously had other lovers which she felt necessary
to conceal from Carter.
“The girl sat up very straight and tilted her
chin in the air. ‘I would not wed with a walking diamond-mine,’ she said.
‘I will not have him.’
“‘I told him as much,’ replied her father, ‘and
that you were as good as betrothed to another. He was very courteous about
it; but at the same time he gave me to understand that he was accustomed
to getting what he wanted and that he wanted you very much. I suppose it
will mean another war. Your mother’s beauty kept Helium at war for many
years, and – well, Tara of Helium, if I were a young man I should doubtless
be willing to set all Baroom afire to win you, as I still would to keep
your divine mother,’ and he smiled across the sorapus table and its golden
service at the undimmed beauty of Mars’ most beautiful woman.” (CM/2.)
I feel I must make a disclaimer at this point in case I might have inadvertently
offended more than one of my readers. This reader informed me that he had
been very disturbed by the sexual suggestiveness that I pointed out was
in this scene where Tara sits in her father’s lap. I
assured him that I have never had any incestuous fantasies, having
been brought up with the idea being a clear and undisputed societal taboo.
This taboo fortunately kept me from having any sexual fantasies about my
own two daughters as they were growing up, and they have both turned into
very beautiful young women with healthy attitudes toward young men.
However, ERB sometimes wrote to shock. For those of you who can manage
to accurately draw this scene, the sexual suggestiveness I mention should
come into hard focus.
Both father and daughter are naked. She is in his lap. If all you had
were the picture, the uninformed viewer of your drawing would likely swear
that what he or she was looking at was a depiction of a lap dance.
Of course, with the dialogue of the story to go along with it, we find
that what we are really looking at is an innocent family dinner scene between
father, mother, and daughter, discussing a possible suitor. Thus, I am
in no way suggesting that Carter had an incestuous relationship with his
daughter. I am only suggesting that with those readers with a normal healthy
imagination, ERB was having a little fun. I fully apologize to any other
reader who was offended by my analysis.
Anyway, to get back to our point: Dejah Thoris is the number one femme
fatale on Barsoom. Those that fall madly in love with her do so at their
own peril. Carter has done so and is slowly slipping into a psychopathic
fugue state as the Princess leaves her interview with Than Kosis and Sab
Than. As has been mentioned, this could have been based on hard fact from
ERB’s previous dealings with Frank Martin.
“Thus was the edifice of my brief dream
of happiness dashed, broken, to the ground of reality. The woman for whom
I had offered my life, and from whose lips I had so recently heard a declaration
of love for me, had lightly forgotten my very existence and smilingly given
herself to the son of her people’s most hated enemy.
Now, if you have any military or law enforcement background, you will know
how serious it is to leave your post. It is quite literally a point of
no return. When you are the personal bodyguard of the Jeddak, it is easy
to imagine this being a capital offense. Carter is a trained, experienced
fighting man, fully educated in military discipline. From this point on
in the story, until he gets the princess, he is not in his right mind.
“Although I had heard it with my own ears I could
not believe it. I must search out her apartments and force her to repeat
the cruel truth to me alone before I would be convinced, and so I deserted
my post and hastened through the passage behind the tapestries toward the
door by which she had left the chamber. Slipping quietly through the opening
I discovered a maze of winding corridors, branching and turning in every
He deserts his post ready to commit force and battery on the Princess
to get to the truth of the matter. Woe to anyone who gets in his way. As
we shall see, the first to do so are of his own Guard unit. These are confronted
“Running rapidly down first one and then
another of them I soon became hopelessly lost and was standing panting
against a side wall when I heard voices near me. Apparently they were coming
from the opposite side of the partition against which I leaned and presently
I made out the voice of Dejah Thoris. I could not hear the words but I
knew that I could not possibly be mistaken in the voice.
I wrote in Part One that there was no evidence of Sola being present with
Dejah Thoris while she was a captive in Zodanga, but this passage proves
I was surely wrong. When doing my research, I thought for sure that she
was in this passage but when I read and reread it for Part One, my eyes
were blinded to her name. It was like proof reading a page several times
and never spotting the obvious typo that then stands out so terribly after
you’ve let the article go to the printer. Thus, when the Zodangans captured
Dejah Thoris, either from the Green Hordes or by themselves on an air patrol,
Sola never left the side of her beloved Princess.
“Moving on a few steps I discovered another passageway
at the end of which lay a door. Walking boldly forward I pushed into the
room only to find myself in a small antechamber in which were four guards
who had accompanied her. One of them instantly arose and accosted me, asking
the nature of my business.
“‘I am from Than Kosis,’ I replied, ‘and wish
to speak privately with Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium.’
“‘And your order?’ asked the fellow.
“I did not know what he meant, but replied that
I was a member of The Guard, and without waiting for a reply from him I
strode to the opposite door of the antechamber, behind which I could hear
Dejah Thoris conversing.
“But my entrance was not to be so easily accomplished.
The guardsman stepped before me, saying,
“‘No one comes from Than Kosis without carrying
an order or the password. You must give me one or the other before you
“‘The only order I require, my friend, to enter
where I will, hangs at my side,’ I answered, tapping my long-sword; ‘will
you let me pass in peace or no?’
“For reply he whipped out his own sword, calling
to the others to join him, and thus the four stood, with drawn weapons,
barring my further progress.
“‘You are not here by the order of Than Kosis,’
cried the one who had first addressed me, ‘and not only shall you not enter
the apartments of the Princess of Helium but you shall go back to Than
Kosis under guard to explain this unwarranted temerity. Throw down your
sword; you cannot hope to overcome four of us,’ he added with a grim smile.
“My reply was a quick thrust which left me but
three antagonists and I can assure you that they were worthy of my metal.
Slowly I worked my way to a corner of the room where I could force to come
at me only one at a time, and thus we fought upward of twenty minutes;
the clanging of the steel on steel producing a veritible bedlam in the
“The noise had brought Dejah Thoris to the door
of her apartment, and there she stood throughout the conflict with Sola
at her back peering over her shoulder. Her face was set and emotionless
and I knew that she did not recognize me, nor did Sola.” (PM/22.)
Again, if any reader discovers an error in this series, don’t hesitate
to email me with it and I will correct it in the next article. I can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes I am a amazed when characters in a story don’t recognize people
because of a cursory disguise, such as Superman’s Clark Kent disguise,
which consisted of a fake “pair of glasses.” Here, Carter is only disguised
by red pigmentation and the metal of the Zodangan Guard, but otherwise
his physical features are unchanged, and yet, two of the women who are
intimately acquainted with him cannot recognize him. Oh well, sometimes
you just have to suspend that good old disbelief.
“Finally a lucky cut brought down a second
guardsman and then, with only two opposing me, I changed my tactics and
rushed them down after the fashion of my fighting that had won me many
a victory. The third fell within ten seconds after the second, and the
last lay dead upon the bloody floor a few moments later.” (PM/22,)
And now comes one of the greatest lines ERB ever wrote, which I repeat
as many times as I can justify:
“They were brave men and noble fighters,
and it grieved me that I had been forced to kill them, but I would have
willingly depopulated all Barsoom could I have reached the side of my Dejah
Thoris in no other way.” (PM/22.)
No matter how you spin this, it is the statement of an irrational mind.
A crazy love for Dejah Thoris is driving this behavior, and though what
he believes he must do grieves him, he will allow nothing to get in his
way. Any good will he might have gained among the Zodangans is extinguished
the moment he murders the first guard. Well, perhaps murder is too strong
of a term if you see this primarily as the acts of a Helium assassin. But,
as I said before, Carter has made no allegiance to the Empire of Helium
and unless I am dead wrong, he does not appear to be politically motivated
at this time. In his mind, Zodanga is not yet his sworn enemy, but only
the Prince of Zodanga, who stands in his way.
Of course, being an Earth man, he has not quite gotten the idea of the
strength of Martian custom into his head. But he is about to find out.
In fact, he will learn this lesson so well that the idea of stamping out
the Religion of Issus doesn’t enter his mind until after serving the Empire
of Helium for ten years, then returning to Earth for ten more, and, finally,
returning again in the Valley Dor at the star-fated same time as Tars Tarkas,
and at the same time Thuvia awaits chained in the Chamber of Mystery to
be fed to the Plant Men.
“Sheathing my bloody blade I advanced
toward my Martian Princess, who still stood mutely gazing at me without
sign of recognition.
Now comes an explanation from Dejah Thoris which often goes unnoticed for
the implications it raises. I said before how I believed that the Princess
had gone a lot farther toward consummating the marriage than just making
a promise to Than Kosis. This hunch is further confirmed by her explanation
of her actions in the past with Carter among the Green Men which shows
with absolute certainty that Dejah Thoris was perfectly willing to flaunt
Martian custom vis-a-vis fornication, when it came to living in sin with
“‘Who are you, Zodangan?’ she whispered. ‘Another
enemy to harass me in my misery?’
“‘I am a friend,’ I answered, ‘a once cherished
“‘No friend of Helium’s princess wears that metal,’
she replied, ‘and yet the voice! I have heard it before; it is not – it
cannot be – no, for he is dead.’
“‘It is, though, my princess, none other than
John Carter,’ I said. ‘Do you not recognize me, even through paint and
strange metal, the heart of your chieftan?’
“As I came close to her she swayed toward me with
outstretched hands, but as I reached to take her in my arms, she drew back
with a shudder and a little moan of misery.
“‘Too late, too late,’ she grieved. ‘O my chieftan
that was, and whom I thought dead, had you but returned one little hour
before – but now it is too late, too late.’
“‘What do you mean, Dejah Thoris?’ I cried. ‘That
you would not have promised yourself to the Zodangan prince had you known
that I lived?’
“‘Think you, John Carter, that I would give my
heart to you yesterday and today to another? I thought that it layed buried
with your ashes in the pits of Warhoon, and so today I have promised by
body to another to save my people from the curse of a victorious Zodangan
“‘But I am not dead, my princess. I have come
to claim you, and all Zodanga cannot prevent it.’
“‘It is too late, John Carter, my promise is given,
and on Barsoom that is final. The ceremonies which follow later are but
meaningless formalities. They make the fact of marriage no more certain
than does the funeral cortege of a jeddak again place the seal of death
upon him. I am as a good as married, John Carter. No longer are you my
“‘I know but little of your customs here
upon Barsoom, Dejah Thoris, but I do know that I love you, and if you meant
the last words you spoke to me that day as the hordes of Warhoon were charging
down upon us, no other man shall ever claim you as his bride. You meant
them then, my princess, and you mean them still! Say that it is true.”
ERB’s life experience with like situations can be felt deeply in this part
of the episode.
They say bad news comes in threes. Carter, already in a state of lover’s
psychological shock, now undergoes further trauma as he learns of past
misunderstandings that could have made things much different.
“‘I meant them, John Carter,’ she whispered.
‘I cannot repeat them now for I have given myself to another. Ah, if you
had only known our ways, my friend,’ she continued, half to herself, ‘the
promise would have been yours long months ago, and you could have claimed
me before all others. It might have meant the fall of Helium, but I would
have given my empire for my Tharkian chief.’
Dejah Thoris is announcing that she was willing to be known as Carter’s
whore among the Green Men as long as she could be with him. But in her
mind, some customs appear to be greater than others. Marriage promises
are sacred and can never be broken. And even if they were made in a false
belief, we must never forget that before she discovered that her chieftan
still lived, she appeared to be the happy, satisfied lover of Sab Than.
This poor guy will soon learn the hard way how fickle Dejah Thoris can
be. Yes, ERB knew how to write soap opera.
“Then aloud she said: ‘Do you remember the night
when you offended me? You called me your princess without having asked
my hand of me, and then you boasted that you had fought for me. You did
not know, and I should not have been offended; I see that now. But there
was no one to tell you, what I could not, that upon Barsoom there are two
kinds of women in the cities of the red men. The one they fight for that
they may ask them in marriage; the other kind they fight for also, but
never ask their hands. When a man has won a woman he may address her as
his princess, or in any of the several terms which signify possession.
You had fought for me, but had never asked me in marriage, and so when
you called me your princess, you see,’ she faltered, ‘I was hurt, but even
then, John Carter, I did not repulse you, as I should have done, until
you made it doubly worse by taunting me with having won me through combat.’”
This news from his Princess must have been like adding gasoline to a
burning fire. In desperation, Carter tries one more time:
“‘I do not need ask your forgiveness
now, Dejah Thoris,’ I cried. ‘You must know that my fault was of ignorance
of your Barsoomian customs. What I failed to do, through implicit belief
that my petition would be presumptuous and unwelcome, I do now, Dejah Thoris;
I ask you to be my wife, and by all the Virginian fighting blood that flows
in my veins you shall be.’
Note how swiftly this decision comes to Carter after he hears the verdict
“‘No, John Carter, it is useless,’ she cried,
hopelessly, ‘I may never be yours while Sab Than lives.’
“‘You have sealed his death warrant, my princess
– Sab Than dies.” (PM/22.)
Carter has just killed four honorable men only to discover that he must
murder another. Notice how the grief he felt for the guards is nowhere
evident in his passing the death warrant on Sab Than. His mind is slowly
spiralling downwards, bordering on total madness.
“‘Nor that either,’ she hastened to explain.
‘I may not wed the man who slays my husband, even in self-defense. It is
custom. We are ruled by custom upon Barsoom. It is useless, my friend.
You must bear the sorrow with me. That at least we may share in common.
That, and the memory of the brief days among the Tharks. You must go now,
nor ever see me again. Good-bye, my chieftan that was.’” (PM/22.)
I always hear that famous line from Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris,
” when I read this scene. But, what was good enough for Bogie is not good
enough for John Carter. In his crazed mind, Martian custom won’t rule until
the wedding ceremony is finalized.
“Disheartened and dejected, I withdrew
from the room, but I was not entirely discouraged, nor would I admit that
Dejah Thoris was lost to me until the ceremony had actually been performed.
Carter sees his opportunity and falls in behind a squad of guards until
he reaches a room where he can see the light of day. Then he slips away
and discovers a balcony that looks over a broad avenue:
“As I wandered along the corridors, I was as absolutely
lost in the mazes of winding passages as I had been before I discovered
Dejah Thoris’ apartments.
“I knew that my only hope lay in escape from the
city of Zodanga, for the matter of the four dead guardsmen would have to
be explained, as I could never reach my original post without a guide,
suspicion would surely rest on me so soon as I was discovered wandering
aimlessly through the palace.
“Presently I came upon a spiral runway leading
to a lower floor, and this I followed downward for several stories until
I reached the doorway of a large apartment in which were a number of guardsmen.
The walls of this room were hung with transparent tapestries behind which
I secreted myself without being apprehended.
“The conversation of the guardsmen was general,
and awakened no interest in me until an officer entered the room and ordered
four of the men to relieve the detail who were guarding the Princess of
Helium. Now, I knew, my troubles would commence in earnest and indeed they
were upon me all too soon, for it seemed that the squad had scarcely left
the guardroom before one of their number burst in again breathlessly, crying
that they had found their four comrades butchered in the antechamber.
“In a moment the entire palace was alive with
people. Guardsmen, officers, courtiers, servants, and slaves ran helter-skelter
through the corridors and apartments carrying messages and orders, and
searching for signs of the assassin.” (PM/22.)
“The windows opened upon a great balcony
which overlooked one of the broad avenues of Zodanga. The ground was about
thirty feet below, and a like distance from the building was a wall fully
twenty feet high, constructed of polished glass about a foot in thickness.
To a red Martian escape by this path would have appeared impossible, but
to me, with my earthly strength and agility, it seemed already accomplished.”
Carter decides to wait until dark to avoid detection of his escape out
in the street. In the meantime, he hides inside a gigantic bowl-like ornament
hanging from the ceiling. Almost immediately, he hears a group of people
enter the room.
“The group stopped beneath my hiding
place and I could plainly overhear their every word.
Carter’s mind escapes its trauma by now focusing on a plan. He returns
to his quarters and finds Kantos Kan waiting for him. He tells him the
“‘It is the work of Heliumites,’ said one of the
“‘Yes, O Jeddak, but how had they access to the
palace? I could believe that even with the diligent care of your guardsmen
a single enemy might reach the inner chambers, but how a force of six or
eight fighting men could have done so unobserved is beyond me. We shall
soon know, however, for here comes the royal psychologist.’
“Another man now joined the group, and, after
making his formal greetings to his ruler, said: “‘O mighty Jeddak, it is
a strange tale I read in the dead minds of your faithful guardsmen. They
were felled not by a number of fighting men, but by a single opponent.’
“He paused to let the full weight of this announcement
impress his hearers, and that his statement was scarcely credited was evidenced
by the impatient exclamation of incredulity which escaped the lips of Than
“‘What manner of weird tale are you bringing me,
Notan?’ he cried.
“‘It is the truth, my Jeddak,’ replied the psychologist.
‘In fact the impressions were strongly marked on the brain of each of the
four guardsmen. Their antagonist was a very tall man, wearing the metal
of one of your own guardsmen, and his fighting ability was little short
of marvelous for he fought fair against the entire four and vanquished
them by his surpassing skill and superhuman strength and endurance. Though
he wore the metal of Zodanga, my Jeddak, such a man was never seen before
in this or any other country upon Barsoom.
“‘The mind of the Princess of Helium whom I have
examined and questioned was blank to me, she has perfect control, and I
could not read one iota of it. She said that she witnessed a portion of
the encounter, and that when she looked there was but one man engaged with
the guardsmen; a man whom she did not recognize as ever having seen.’
“‘Where is my erstwhile savior?’ spoke another
of the party, and I recognized the voice of the cousin of Than Kosis, whom
I had rescued from the green warriors. ‘By the metal of my first ancestor,’
he went on, ‘but the description fits him to perfection, especially as
to his fighting ability.’
“‘Where is this man?’ cried Than Kosis. ‘Have
him brought to me at once. What know you of him, cousin? It seemed strange
to me now that I think upon it that there should have been such a fighting
man in Zodanga, of whose name, even, we were ignorant before today. And
his name too, John Carter, who ever heard of such a name upon Barsoom!’
“Word was soon brought that I was nowhere to be
found, either in the palace or at my former quarters in the barracks of
the air-scout squadron. Kantos Kan, they had found and questioned, but
he knew nothing of my whereabouts, and as to my past, he had told them
he knew as little, since he had but recently met me during our captivity
among the Warhoons.
“‘Keep your eyes on this other one,’ commanded
Than Kosis. ‘He also is a stranger and likely as not they both hail from
Helium, and where one is we shall sooner or later find the other. Quadruple
the air patrol, and let every man who leaves the city by air or ground
be subjected to the closest scrutiny.’
“Another messenger now entered with word that
I was still within the palace walls.
“‘The likeness of every person who has entered
or left the palace grounds today has been carefully examined,’ concluded
the fellow, ‘and not one approaches the likeness of this new padwar of
the guards, other than that which was recorded of him at the time he entered.’
“‘Then we will have him shortly,’ commented Than
Kosis contentedly, ‘and in the meanwhile we will repair to the apartments
of the Princess of Helium and question her in regard to the affair. She
may know more than she cared to divulge to you, Notan. Come.’
“They left the hall, and, as darkness had fallen
without, I slipped lightly from my hiding place and hastened to the balcony.
Few were in sight, and choosing a moment when none seemed near I sprang
quickly to the top of the glass wall and from there to the avenue beyond
the palace grounds.” (PM/22.)
“‘It cannot be,’ he exclaimed. ‘It is
impossible! Why no man in all Helium but would prefer death to the selling
of our loved princess to the ruling house of Zodanga. She must have lost
her mind to have assented to such an atrocious bargain. You, who do not
know how we of Helium love the members of our ruling house, cannot appreciate
the horror with which I contemplate such an unholy allliance.’
This is the point where I believe Carter shifts his full allegiance from
Zodanga to Helium, even though it is mostly Kantos Kan doing the pledging.
We don’t really know how serious Carter is about Helium at this time. His
main problem is Sab Than, and Kantos Kan has proposed a way of getting
him out of the way. But Carter is not sure how he will do it.
“‘What can be done, John Carter?’ he continued.
‘You are a resourceful man. Can you not think of some way to save Helium
from this disgrace?’
“‘If I can come within sword’s reach of Sab Than,’
I answered, ‘I can solve the difficulty in so far as Helium is concerned,
but for personal reasons I would prefer that another struck the blow that
frees Dejah Thoris.’
“Kantos Kan eyed me narrowly before he spoke.
“‘You love her!’ he said. ‘Does she know it?’
“‘She knows it, Kantos Kan, and repulses me only
because she is promised to Sab Than.’
“The splendid fellow sprang to his feet, and grasping
me by the shoulder raised his sword on high, exclaiming: “‘And had the
choice been left to me I could not have chosen a more fitting mate for
the first princess of Barsoom. Here is my hand upon your shoulder, John
Carter, and my word that Sab Than shall go out at the point of my sword
for the sake of my love for Helium, for Dejah Thoris, and for you. This
very night I shall try to reach his quarters in the palace.’” (PM/23.)
“‘How?’ I asked. ‘You are strongly guarded
and a quadruple force patrols the sky.’
The reader has just witnessed one of ERB’s memorable writing techniques.
He first spends an inordinate amount of time making his characters plan
out details only to have them blow away at a moment’s notice. And those
damn compasses! I can’t remember a story where they actually worked without
being defective, sabotaged, or damaged by enemy fire. And there we have
it: Carter, out of his mind, is lost and can’t find his way to Helium.
“He bent his head in thought a moment, then raised
it with an air of confidence.
“‘I only need to pass these guards and I can do
it,’ he said at last. ‘I know a secret entrance to the palace through the
pinnacle of the highest tower. I fell upon it by chance one day as I was
passing above the palace on patrol duty. In this work it is required that
we investigate any unusual occurrence we may witness, and a face peering
from the pinnacle of the high tower of the palace was, to me, most unusual.
I therefore drew near and discovered that the possessor of the peering
face was none other than Sab Than. He was slightly put out at being detected
and commanded me to keep the matter to myself, explaining that the passage
from the tower led directly to his apartments, and was known only to him.
If I can reach the roof of the barracks and get my machine I can be in
Sab Than’s quarters in five minutes; but how am I going to escape from
this building, guarded as you say it is?’
“‘How well are the machine sheds at the barracks
guarded?’ I asked.
“‘There is usually but one man on duty there at
night upon the roof.’
“‘Go to the roof of this building, Kantos Kan,
and wait me there.’
“Without stopping to explain my plans I retraced
my way to the street and hastened to the barracks. I did not dare to enter
the building, filled as it was with members of the air-scout squadron,
who, in common with all Zodanga, were on the lookout for me.
“The building was an enormous one, rearing its
lofty head fully a thousand feet into the air. But few buildings in Zodanga
were higher than these barracks, though several topped it by a few hundred
feet; the docks of the great battleships of the line standing some fifteen
hundred feet from the ground, while the freight and passenger stations
of the merchant squadrons rose nearly as high.
“It was a long climb up the face of the building,
and one fraught with much danger, but there was no other way, and so I
essayed the task. The fact that Barsoomian architecture is extremely ornate
made the feat much simpler than I had anticipated, since I found ornamental
ledges and projections which formed a perfect ladder for me all the way
to the eaves of the building. Here I met my first real obstacle. The eaves
projected nearly twenty feet from the wall to which I clung, and though
I encircled the great building I could find no opening through them.
“The top floor was alight, and filled with soldiers
engaged in the pastimes of their kind; I could not, therefore, reach the
roof through the building.
“There was one slight, desperate chance, and that
I decided I must take – it was for Dejah Thoris, and no man has lived who
would not risk a thousand deaths for such as she.
“Clinging to the wall with my feet and one hand,
I unloosened one of the long leather straps of my trappings at the end
of which dangled a great hook by which air sailors are hung to the sides
and bottoms of their craft for various purposes of repair, and by means
of which landing parties are lowered to the ground from the battleships.
“I swung this hook cautiously to the roof several
times before it finally found lodgment; gently I pulled on it to strengthen
its hold, but whether it would bear the weight of my body I did not know.
It might be barely caught upon the very outer verge of the roof, so that
as my body swung out at the end of the strap, it would slip off and launch
me to the pavement a thousand feet below.
“An instant I hesitated, and then, releasing my
grasp upon the supporting ornament, I swung out into space at the end of
the strap. Far below me lay the brilliantly lighted streets, the hard pavements,
and death. There was a little jerk at the top of the supporting eaves,
and a nasty slipping, grating sound which turned me cold with apprehension;
then the hook caught and I was safe.
“Clambering quickly aloft I grasped the edge of
the eaves and drew myself to the surface of the roof above. As I gained
my feet I was confronted by the sentry on duty, into the muzzle of whose
revolver I found myself looking.
“‘Who are you and whence came you?’ he cried.
“‘I am an air scout, friend, and very near a dead
one, for just by the merest chance I escaped falling to the avenue below,’
“‘But how came you upon the roof, man? No one
has landed or come up from the building for the past hour. Quick, explain
yourself, or I call the guard.’
“‘Look you here, sentry, and you shall see how
I came and how close a shave I had to not coming at all,’ I answered, turning
toward the edge of the roof, where, twenty feet below, at the end of my
strap, hung all my weapons.
“The fellow, acting on impulse of curiosity, stepped
to my side and his undoing, for as he leaned to peer over the eaves I grasped
him by his throat and his pistol arm and threw him heavily to the roof.
The weapon dropped from his grasp, and my fingers choked off his attempted
cry for assistance. I gagged and bound him and then hung him over the edge
of the roof as I myself had hung a few moments before. I knew it would
be morning before he would be discovered, and I needed all the time that
I could gain.
“Donning my trappings and weapons I hastened to
the sheds, and soon had out both my machine and Kantos Kan’s. Making his
fast behind mine I started my engine, and skimming over the edge of the
roof I dove down into the streets of the city far below the plane usually
occupied by the air patrol. In less than a minute I was settling safely
upon the roof our our apartment beside the astonished Kantos Kan.
“I lost no time in explanations, but plunged immediately
into a discussion of our plans for the immediate future. It was decided
that I was to try to make Helium while Kantos Kan was to enter the palace
and dispatch Sab Than. If successful he was then to follow me. He set my
compass for me, a clever little device which will remain steadfastly fixed
upon any given point on the surface of Barsoom, and bidding each other
farewell we rose together and sped in the direction of the palace which
lay in the route which I must take to reach Helium.
“As we neared the high tower a patrol boat shot
down from above, throwing its piercing searchlight full upon my craft,
and a voice roared out a command to halt, following with a shot as I paid
no attention to his hail. Kantos Kan dropped quickly into the darkness,
while I rose steadily and at a terrific speed raced through the Martian
sky followed by a dozen of the air-scout craft which had joined the pursuit,
and later by a swift cruiser carrying a hundred men and a battery of rapid-fire
guns. By twisting and turning my little machine, now rising and now falling,
I managed to elude their searchlights most of the time, but I was also
losing ground by these tactics, and so I decided to hazard everything on
a straight-away course and leave the result to fate and the speed of my
“Kantos Kan had shown me a trick of gearing, which
is known only to the navy of Helium, that greatly increased the speed of
our machines, so that I felt sure I could distance my pursuers if I could
dodge their projectiles for a few moments.
“As I sped through the air the screeching of the
bullets around me convinced me that only by a miracle could I escape, but
the die was cast, and throwing on full speed I raced a straight course
toward Helium. Gradually I left my pursuers further and further behind,
and I was just congratulating myself on my lucky escape, when a well-directed
shot from the cruiser exploded at the prow of my little craft. The concussion
nearly capsized her, and with a sickening plunge she hurtled downward through
the dark night.
“How far I fell before I regained control of the
plane I do not know, but I must have been very close to the ground when
I started to rise again, as I plainly heard the squealing of animals below
me. Rising again I scanned the heavens for my pursuers, and finally making
out their lights far behind me, saw that they were landing, evidently in
search of me.
“Not until their lights were no longer discernible
did I venture to flash my little lamp upon my compass, and then I found
to my consternation that a fragment of the projectile had utterly destroyed
my only guide, as well as my speedometer. It was true I could follow the
stars in the general direction of Helium, but without knowing the exact
location of the city or the speed at which I was traveling my chances of
finding it were slim. “Helium lies a thousand miles southwest of Zodanga,
and with my compass intact I should have made the trip, barring accidents,
in between four and five hours. As it turned out, however, morning found
me speeding over a vast expanse of dead sea bottom after nearly six hours
at continuous flight at high speed.” (PM/23.)
We will continue our story in Part Three.