A moment later I was standing before a dozen
Mahars--the social investigators of Phutra. They asked
me many questions, through a Sagoth interpreter.
I answered them all truthfully. They seemed particularly
interested in my account of the outer earth and the strange
vehicle which had brought Perry and me to Pellucidar.
I thought that I had convinced them, and after they had
sat in silence for a long time following my examination,
I expected to be ordered returned to my quarters.
During this apparent silence they were debating through
the medium of strange, unspoken language the merits of
my tale. At last the head of the tribunal communicated
the result of their conference to the officer in charge
of the Sagoth guard.
"Come," he said to me, "you are sentenced to the
experimental pits for having dared to insult the
intelligence of the mighty ones with the ridiculous
tale you have had the temerity to unfold to them."
"Do you mean that they do not believe me?" I asked,
"Believe you!" he laughed. "Do you mean to say that you
expected any one to believe so impossible a lie?"
It was hopeless, and so I walked in silence beside my
guard down through the dark corridors and runways toward
my awful doom. At a low level we came upon a number
of lighted chambers in which we saw many Mahars engaged
in various occupations. To one of these chambers my guard
escorted me, and before leaving they chained me to a
side wall. There were other humans similarly chained.
Upon a long table lay a victim even as I was ushered
into the room. Several Mahars stood about the poor
creature holding him down so that he could not move.
Another, grasping a sharp knife with her three-toed
fore foot, was laying open the victim's chest and abdomen.
No anesthetic had been administered and the shrieks
and groans of the tortured man were terrible to hear.
This, indeed, was vivisection with a vengeance.
Cold sweat broke out upon me as I realized that soon my turn
would come. And to think that where there was no such
thing as time I might easily imagine that my suffering
was enduring for months before death finally released me!
The Mahars had paid not the slightest attention to me
as I had been brought into the room. So deeply immersed
were they in their work that I am sure they did
not even know that the Sagoths had entered with me.
The door was close by. Would that I could reach it!
But those heavy chains precluded any such possibility.
I looked about for some means of escape from my bonds.
Upon the floor between me and the Mahars lay a tiny
surgical instrument which one of them must have dropped.
It looked not unlike a button-hook, but was much smaller,
and its point was sharpened. A hundred times in my boyhood
days had I picked locks with a buttonhook. Could I but
reach that little bit of polished steel I might yet effect
at least a temporary escape.
Crawling to the limit of my chain, I found that by
reaching one hand as far out as I could my fingers
still fell an inch short of the coveted instrument.
It was tantalizing! Stretch every fiber of my being
as I would, I could not quite make it.
At last I turned about and extended one foot toward
the object. My heart came to my throat! I could just
touch the thing! But suppose that in my effort to drag it
toward me I should accidentally shove it still farther
away and thus entirely out of reach! Cold sweat broke
out upon me from every pore. Slowly and cautiously I
made the effort. My toes dropped upon the cold metal.
Gradually I worked it toward me until I felt that it was
within reach of my hand and a moment later I had turned
about and the precious thing was in my grasp.
Assiduously I fell to work upon the Mahar lock that held
my chain. It was pitifully simple. A child might have
picked it, and a moment later I was free. The Mahars
were now evidently completing their work at the table.
One already turned away and was examining other victims,
evidently with the intention of selecting the next subject.
Those at the table had their backs toward me. But for the
creature walking toward us I might have escaped that moment.
Slowly the thing approached me, when its attention was
attracted by a huge slave chained a few yards to my right.
Here the reptile stopped and commenced to go over the poor
devil carefully, and as it did so its back turned toward me
for an instant, and in that instant I gave two mighty leaps
that carried me out of the chamber into the corridor beyond,
down which I raced with all the speed I could command.
Where I was, or whither I was going, I knew not.
My only thought was to place as much distance as possible
between me and that frightful chamber of torture.
Presently I reduced my speed to a brisk walk, and later
realizing the danger of running into some new predicament,
were I not careful, I moved still more slowly and cautiously.
After a time I came to a passage that seemed in some
mysterious way familiar to me, and presently, chancing to
glance within a chamber which led from the corridor I saw
three Mahars curled up in slumber upon a bed of skins.
I could have shouted aloud in joy and relief. It was
the same corridor and the same Mahars that I had intended
to have lead so important a role in our escape from Phutra.
Providence had indeed been kind to me, for the reptiles
My one great danger now lay in returning to the upper
levels in search of Perry and Ghak, but there was nothing
else to be done, and so I hastened upward. When I came
to the frequented portions of the building, I found a large
burden of skins in a corner and these I lifted to my head,
carrying them in such a way that ends and corners fell
down about my shoulders completely hiding my face.
Thus disguised I found Perry and Ghak together in the
chamber where we had been wont to eat and sleep.
Both were glad to see me, it was needless to say, though of
course they had known nothing of the fate that had been
meted out to me by my judges. It was decided that no time
should now be lost before attempting to put our plan of
escape to the test, as I could not hope to remain hidden
from the Sagoths long, nor could I forever carry that bale
of skins about upon my head without arousing suspicion.
However it seemed likely that it would carry me once
more safely through the crowded passages and chambers
of the upper levels, and so I set out with Perry and
Ghak--the stench of the illy cured pelts fairly choking me.
Together we repaired to the first tier of corridors beneath
the main floor of the buildings, and here Perry and Ghak
halted to await me. The buildings are cut out of the solid
limestone formation. There is nothing at all remarkable about
their architecture. The rooms are sometimes rectangular,
sometimes circular, and again oval in shape. The corridors
which connect them are narrow and not always straight.
The chambers are lighted by diffused sunlight reflected
through tubes similar to those by which the avenues
are lighted. The lower the tiers of chambers, the darker.
Most of the corridors are entirely unlighted. The Mahars
can see quite well in semidarkness.
Down to the main floor we encountered many Mahars,
Sagoths, and slaves; but no attention was paid to us as we
had become a part of the domestic life of the building.
There was but a single entrance leading from the place
into the avenue and this was well guarded by Sagoths--this
doorway alone were we forbidden to pass. It is true
that we were not supposed to enter the deeper corridors
and apartments except on special occasions when we were
instructed to do so; but as we were considered a lower
order without intelligence there was little reason
to fear that we could accomplish any harm by so doing,
and so we were not hindered as we entered the corridor
which led below.
Wrapped in a skin I carried three swords, and the two bows,
and the arrows which Perry and I had fashioned.
As many slaves bore skin-wrapped burdens to and fro my load
attracted no comment. Where I left Ghak and Perry there
were no other creatures in sight, and so I withdrew one sword
from the package, and leaving the balance of the weapons
with Perry, started on alone toward the lower levels.
Having come to the apartment in which the three Mahars slept
I entered silently on tiptoe, forgetting that the creatures
were without the sense of hearing. With a quick thrust
through the heart I disposed of the first but my second
thrust was not so fortunate, so that before I could kill
the next of my victims it had hurled itself against the third,
who sprang quickly up, facing me with wide-distended jaws.
But fighting is not the occupation which the race
of Mahars loves, and when the thing saw that I already
had dispatched two of its companions, and that my sword
was red with their blood, it made a dash to escape me.
But I was too quick for it, and so, half hopping,
half flying, it scurried down another corridor with me
close upon its heels.
Its escape meant the utter ruin of our plan, and in all
probability my instant death. This thought lent wings
to my feet; but even at my best I could do no more than
hold my own with the leaping thing before me.
Of a sudden it turned into an apartment on the right
of the corridor, and an instant later as I rushed
in I found myself facing two of the Mahars. The one
who had been there when we entered had been occupied
with a number of metal vessels, into which had been put
powders and liquids as I judged from the array of flasks
standing about upon the bench where it had been working.
In an instant I realized what I had stumbled upon.
It was the very room for the finding of which Perry had
given me minute directions. It was the buried chamber
in which was hidden the Great Secret of the race of Mahars.
And on the bench beside the flasks lay the skin-bound book
which held the only copy of the thing I was to have sought,
after dispatching the three Mahars in their sleep.
There was no exit from the room other than the doorway
in which I now stood facing the two frightful reptiles.
Cornered, I knew that they would fight like demons,
and they were well equipped to fight if fight they must.
Together they launched themselves upon me, and though I ran
one of them through the heart on the instant, the other
fastened its gleaming fangs about my sword arm above
the elbow, and then with her sharp talons commenced to rake
me about the body, evidently intent upon disemboweling me.
I saw that it was useless to hope that I might release
my arm from that powerful, viselike grip which seemed
to be severing my arm from my body. The pain I suffered
was intense, but it only served to spur me to greater
efforts to overcome my antagonist.
Back and forth across the floor we struggled--the Mahar
dealing me terrific, cutting blows with her fore feet,
while I attempted to protect my body with my left hand,
at the same time watching for an opportunity to transfer
my blade from my now useless sword hand to its rapidly
weakening mate. At last I was successful, and with what
seemed to me my last ounce of strength I ran the blade
through the ugly body of my foe.
Soundless, as it had fought, it died, and though weak from
pain and loss of blood, it was with an emotion of triumphant
pride that I stepped across its convulsively stiffening
corpse to snatch up the most potent secret of a world.
A single glance assured me it was the very thing that
Perry had described to me.
And as I grasped it did I think of what it meant to the
human race of Pellucidar--did there flash through my
mind the thought that countless generations of my own
kind yet unborn would have reason to worship me for the
thing that I had accomplished for them? I did not.
I thought of a beautiful oval face, gazing out of
limpid eyes, through a waving mass of jet-black hair.
I thought of red, red lips, God-made for kissing.
And of a sudden, apropos of nothing, standing there
alone in the secret chamber of the Mahars of Pellucidar,
I realized that I loved Dian the Beautiful.