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, chpt. 6.)
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
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.
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
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
“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 direction.” (PM/22.)
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 soon afterwards.
“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 may pass.’
“‘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 little room.
“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 John Carter.
“‘Who are you, Zodangan?’ she whispered.
‘Another enemy to harass me in my misery?’
“‘I am a friend,’ I answered, ‘a
once cherished friend.’
“‘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 army.’
“‘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 chieftan.’” (PM/22.)
“‘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.” (PM/22.)
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 of custom.
“‘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
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
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.” (PM/22.)
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 full story.
“‘It is the work of Heliumites,’
said one of the men.
“‘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 Kosis.
“‘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
“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.
“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
“‘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
“‘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
“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
“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
“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?’
“‘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,’ I replied.
“‘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 machine.
“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.