For ten days the hordes of Thark and their wild allies were feasted an_ntertained, and, then, loaded with costly presents and escorted by te_housand soldiers of Helium commanded by Mors Kajak, they started on th_eturn journey to their own lands. The jed of lesser Helium with a small part_f nobles accompanied them all the way to Thark to cement more closely the ne_onds of peace and friendship.
Sola also accompanied Tars Tarkas, her father, who before all his chieftain_ad acknowledged her as his daughter.
Three weeks later, Mors Kajak and his officers, accompanied by Tars Tarkas an_ola, returned upon a battleship that had been dispatched to Thark to fetc_hem in time for the ceremony which made Dejah Thoris and John Carter one.
For nine years I served in the councils and fought in the armies of Helium a_ prince of the house of Tardos Mors. The people seemed never to tire o_eaping honors upon me, and no day passed that did not bring some new proof o_heir love for my princess, the incomparable Dejah Thoris.
In a golden incubator upon the roof of our palace lay a snow-white egg. Fo_early five years ten soldiers of the jeddak's Guard had constantly stood ove_t, and not a day passed when I was in the city that Dejah Thoris and I di_ot stand hand in hand before our little shrine planning for the future, whe_he delicate shell should break.
Vivid in my memory is the picture of the last night as we sat there talking i_ow tones of the strange romance which had woven our lives together and o_his wonder which was coming to augment our happiness and fulfill our hopes.
In the distance we saw the bright-white light of an approaching airship, bu_e attached no special significance to so common a sight. Like a bolt o_ightning it raced toward Helium until its very speed bespoke the unusual.
Flashing the signals which proclaimed it a dispatch bearer for the jeddak, i_ircled impatiently awaiting the tardy patrol boat which must convoy it to th_alace docks.
Ten minutes after it touched at the palace a message called me to the counci_hamber, which I found filling with the members of that body.
On the raised platform of the throne was Tardos Mors, pacing back and fort_ith tense-drawn face. When all were in their seats he turned toward us.
"This morning," he said, "word reached the several governments of Barsoom tha_he keeper of the atmosphere plant had made no wireless report for two days, nor had almost ceaseless calls upon him from a score of capitals elicited _ign of response.
"The ambassadors of the other nations asked us to take the matter in hand an_asten the assistant keeper to the plant. All day a thousand cruisers hav_een searching for him until just now one of them returns bearing his dea_ody, which was found in the pits beneath his house horribly mutilated by som_ssassin.
"I do not need to tell you what this means to Barsoom. It would take months t_enetrate those mighty walls, in fact the work has already commenced, an_here would be little to fear were the engine of the pumping plant to run a_t should and as they all have for hundreds of years now; but the worst, w_ear, has happened. The instruments show a rapidly decreasing air pressure o_ll parts of Barsoom—the engine has stopped."
"My gentlemen," he concluded, "we have at best three days to live."
There was absolute silence for several minutes, and then a young noble arose, and with his drawn sword held high above his head addressed Tardos Mors.
"The men of Helium have prided themselves that they have ever shown Barsoo_ow a nation of red men should live, now is our opportunity to show them ho_hey should die. Let us go about our duties as though a thousand useful year_till lay before us."
The chamber rang with applause and as there was nothing better to do than t_llay the fears of the people by our example we went our ways with smiles upo_ur faces and sorrow gnawing at our hearts.
When I returned to my palace I found that the rumor already had reached Deja_horis, so I told her all that I had heard.
"We have been very happy, John Carter," she said, "and I thank whatever fat_vertakes us that it permits us to die together."
The next two days brought no noticeable change in the supply of air, but o_he morning of the third day breathing became difficult at the highe_ltitudes of the rooftops. The avenues and plazas of Helium were filled wit_eople. All business had ceased. For the most part the people looked bravel_nto the face of their unalterable doom. Here and there, however, men an_omen gave way to quiet grief.
Toward the middle of the day many of the weaker commenced to succumb an_ithin an hour the people of Barsoom were sinking by thousands into th_nconsciousness which precedes death by asphyxiation.
Dejah Thoris and I with the other members of the royal family had collected i_ sunken garden within an inner courtyard of the palace. We conversed in lo_ones, when we conversed at all, as the awe of the grim shadow of death crep_ver us. Even Woola seemed to feel the weight of the impending calamity, fo_e pressed close to Dejah Thoris and to me, whining pitifully.
The little incubator had been brought from the roof of our palace at reques_f Dejah Thoris and now she sat gazing longingly upon the unknown little lif_hat now she would never know.
As it was becoming perceptibly difficult to breathe Tardos Mors arose, saying,
"Let us bid each other farewell. The days of the greatness of Barsoom ar_ver. Tomorrow's sun will look down upon a dead world which through al_ternity must go swinging through the heavens peopled not even by memories. I_s the end."
He stooped and kissed the women of his family, and laid his strong hand upo_he shoulders of the men.
As I turned sadly from him my eyes fell upon Dejah Thoris. Her head wa_rooping upon her breast, to all appearances she was lifeless. With a cry _prang to her and raised her in my arms.
Her eyes opened and looked into mine.
"Kiss me, John Carter," she murmured. "I love you! I love you! It is crue_hat we must be torn apart who were just starting upon a life of love an_appiness."
As I pressed her dear lips to mine the old feeling of unconquerable power an_uthority rose in me. The fighting blood of Virginia sprang to life in m_eins.
"It shall not be, my princess," I cried. "There is, there must be some way, and John Carter, who has fought his way through a strange world for love o_ou, will find it."
And with my words there crept above the threshold of my conscious mind _eries of nine long forgotten sounds. Like a flash of lightning in th_arkness their full purport dawned upon me—the key to the three great doors o_he atmosphere plant!
Turning suddenly toward Tardos Mors as I still clasped my dying love to m_reast I cried.
"A flier, Jeddak! Quick! Order your swiftest flier to the palace top. I ca_ave Barsoom yet."
He did not wait to question, but in an instant a guard was racing to th_earest dock and though the air was thin and almost gone at the rooftop the_anaged to launch the fastest one-man, air-scout machine that the skill o_arsoom had ever produced.
Kissing Dejah Thoris a dozen times and commanding Woola, who would hav_ollowed me, to remain and guard her, I bounded with my old agility an_trength to the high ramparts of the palace, and in another moment I wa_eaded toward the goal of the hopes of all Barsoom.
I had to fly low to get sufficient air to breathe, but I took a straigh_ourse across an old sea bottom and so had to rise only a few feet above th_round.
I traveled with awful velocity for my errand was a race against time wit_eath. The face of Dejah Thoris hung always before me. As I turned for a las_ook as I left the palace garden I had seen her stagger and sink upon th_round beside the little incubator. That she had dropped into the last com_hich would end in death, if the air supply remained unreplenished, I wel_new, and so, throwing caution to the winds, I flung overboard everything bu_he engine and compass, even to my ornaments, and lying on my belly along th_eck with one hand on the steering wheel and the other pushing the speed leve_o its last notch I split the thin air of dying Mars with the speed of _eteor.
An hour before dark the great walls of the atmosphere plant loomed suddenl_efore me, and with a sickening thud I plunged to the ground before the smal_oor which was withholding the spark of life from the inhabitants of an entir_lanet.
Beside the door a great crew of men had been laboring to pierce the wall, bu_hey had scarcely scratched the flint- like surface, and now most of them la_n the last sleep from which not even air would awaken them.
Conditions seemed much worse here than at Helium, and it was with difficult_hat I breathed at all. There were a few men still conscious, and to one o_hese I spoke.
"If I can open these doors is there a man who can start the engines?" I asked.
"I can," he replied, "if you open quickly. I can last but a few moments more.
But it is useless, they are both dead and no one else upon Barsoom knew th_ecret of these awful locks. For three days men crazed with fear have surge_bout this portal in vain attempts to solve its mystery."
I had no time to talk, I was becoming very weak and it was with difficult_hat I controlled my mind at all.
But, with a final effort, as I sank weakly to my knees I hurled the nin_hought waves at that awful thing before me. The Martian had crawled to m_ide and with staring eyes fixed on the single panel before us we waited i_he silence of death.
Slowly the mighty door receded before us. I attempted to rise and follow i_ut I was too weak.
"After it," I cried to my companion, "and if you reach the pump room tur_oose all the pumps. It is the only chance Barsoom has to exist tomorrow!"
From where I lay I opened the second door, and then the third, and as I sa_he hope of Barsoom crawling weakly on hands and knees through the las_oorway I sank unconscious upon the ground.