The third day after the incubator ceremony we set forth toward home, bu_carcely had the head of the procession debouched into the open ground befor_he city than orders were given for an immediate and hasty return. As thoug_rained for years in this particular evolution, the green Martians melted lik_ist into the spacious doorways of the nearby buildings, until, in less tha_hree minutes, the entire cavalcade of chariots, mastodons and mounte_arriors was nowhere to be seen.
Sola and I had entered a building upon the front of the city, in fact, th_ame one in which I had had my encounter with the apes, and, wishing to se_hat had caused the sudden retreat, I mounted to an upper floor and peere_rom the window out over the valley and the hills beyond; and there I saw th_ause of their sudden scurrying to cover. A huge craft, long, low, and gray-
painted, swung slowly over the crest of the nearest hill. Following it cam_nother, and another, and another, until twenty of them, swinging low abov_he ground, sailed slowly and majestically toward us.
Each carried a strange banner swung from stem to stern above the upper works,
and upon the prow of each was painted some odd device that gleamed in th_unlight and showed plainly even at the distance at which we were from th_essels. I could see figures crowding the forward decks and upper works of th_ir craft. Whether they had discovered us or simply were looking at th_eserted city I could not say, but in any event they received a rud_eception, for suddenly and without warning the green Martian warriors fired _errific volley from the windows of the buildings facing the little valle_cross which the great ships were so peacefully advancing.
Instantly the scene changed as by magic; the foremost vessel swung broadsid_oward us, and bringing her guns into play returned our fire, at the same tim_oving parallel to our front for a short distance and then turning back wit_he evident intention of completing a great circle which would bring her up t_osition once more opposite our firing line; the other vessels followed in he_ake, each one opening upon us as she swung into position. Our own fire neve_iminished, and I doubt if twenty-five per cent of our shots went wild. It ha_ever been given me to see such deadly accuracy of aim, and it seemed a_hough a little figure on one of the craft dropped at the explosion of eac_ullet, while the banners and upper works dissolved in spurts of flame as th_rresistible projectiles of our warriors mowed through them.
The fire from the vessels was most ineffectual, owing, as I afterward learned,
to the unexpected suddenness of the first volley, which caught the ship'_rews entirely unprepared and the sighting apparatus of the guns unprotecte_rom the deadly aim of our warriors.
It seems that each green warrior has certain objective points for his fir_nder relatively identical circumstances of warfare. For example, a proportio_f them, always the best marksmen, direct their fire entirely upon th_ireless finding and sighting apparatus of the big guns of an attacking nava_orce; another detail attends to the smaller guns in the same way; others pic_ff the gunners; still others the officers; while certain other quota_oncentrate their attention upon the other members of the crew, upon the uppe_orks, and upon the steering gear and propellers.
Twenty minutes after the first volley the great fleet swung trailing off i_he direction from which it had first appeared. Several of the craft wer_imping perceptibly, and seemed but barely under the control of their deplete_rews. Their fire had ceased entirely and all their energies seemed focuse_pon escape. Our warriors then rushed up to the roofs of the buildings whic_e occupied and followed the retreating armada with a continuous fusillade o_eadly fire.
One by one, however, the ships managed to dip below the crests of the outlyin_ills until only one barely moving craft was in sight. This had received th_runt of our fire and seemed to be entirely unmanned, as not a moving figur_as visible upon her decks. Slowly she swung from her course, circling bac_oward us in an erratic and pitiful manner. Instantly the warriors cease_iring, for it was quite apparent that the vessel was entirely helpless, and,
far from being in a position to inflict harm upon us, she could not eve_ontrol herself sufficiently to escape.
As she neared the city the warriors rushed out upon the plain to meet her, bu_t was evident that she still was too high for them to hope to reach he_ecks. From my vantage point in the window I could see the bodies of her cre_trewn about, although I could not make out what manner of creatures the_ight be. Not a sign of life was manifest upon her as she drifted slowly wit_he light breeze in a southeasterly direction.
She was drifting some fifty feet above the ground, followed by all but som_undred of the warriors who had been ordered back to the roofs to cover th_ossibility of a return of the fleet, or of reinforcements. It soon becam_vident that she would strike the face of the buildings about a mile south o_ur position, and as I watched the progress of the chase I saw a number o_arriors gallop ahead, dismount and enter the building she seemed destined t_ouch.
As the craft neared the building, and just before she struck, the Martia_arriors swarmed upon her from the windows, and with their great spears ease_he shock of the collision, and in a few moments they had thrown out grapplin_ooks and the big boat was being hauled to ground by their fellows below.
After making her fast, they swarmed the sides and searched the vessel fro_tem to stern. I could see them examining the dead sailors, evidently fo_igns of life, and presently a party of them appeared from below dragging _ittle figure among them. The creature was considerably less than half as tal_s the green Martian warriors, and from my balcony I could see that it walke_rect upon two legs and surmised that it was some new and strange Martia_onstrosity with which I had not as yet become acquainted.
They removed their prisoner to the ground and then commenced a systemati_ifling of the vessel. This operation required several hours, during whic_ime a number of the chariots were requisitioned to transport the loot, whic_onsisted in arms, ammunition, silks, furs, jewels, strangely carved ston_essels, and a quantity of solid foods and liquids, including many casks o_ater, the first I had seen since my advent upon Mars.
After the last load had been removed the warriors made lines fast to the craf_nd towed her far out into the valley in a southwesterly direction. A few o_hem then boarded her and were busily engaged in what appeared, from m_istant position, as the emptying of the contents of various carboys upon th_ead bodies of the sailors and over the decks and works of the vessel.
This operation concluded, they hastily clambered over her sides, sliding dow_he guy ropes to the ground. The last warrior to leave the deck turned an_hrew something back upon the vessel, waiting an instant to note the outcom_f his act. As a faint spurt of flame rose from the point where the missil_truck he swung over the side and was quickly upon the ground. Scarcely had h_lighted than the guy ropes were simultaneous released, and the great warship,
lightened by the removal of the loot, soared majestically into the air, he_ecks and upper works a mass of roaring flames.
Slowly she drifted to the southeast, rising higher and higher as the flame_te away her wooden parts and diminished the weight upon her. Ascending to th_oof of the building I watched her for hours, until finally she was lost i_he dim vistas of the distance. The sight was awe-inspiring in the extreme a_ne contemplated this mighty floating funeral pyre, drifting unguided an_nmanned through the lonely wastes of the Martian heavens; a derelict of deat_nd destruction, typifying the life story of these strange and ferociou_reatures into whose unfriendly hands fate had carried it.
Much depressed, and, to me, unaccountably so, I slowly descended to th_treet. The scene I had witnessed seemed to mark the defeat and annihilatio_f the forces of a kindred people, rather than the routing by our gree_arriors of a horde of similar, though unfriendly, creatures. I could no_athom the seeming hallucination, nor could I free myself from it; bu_omewhere in the innermost recesses of my soul I felt a strange yearnin_oward these unknown foemen, and a mighty hope surged through me that th_leet would return and demand a reckoning from the green warriors who had s_uthlessly and wantonly attacked it.
Close at my heel, in his now accustomed place, followed Woola, the hound, an_s I emerged upon the street Sola rushed up to me as though I had been th_bject of some search on her part. The cavalcade was returning to the plaza,
the homeward march having been given up for that day; nor, in fact, was i_ecommenced for more than a week, owing to the fear of a return attack by th_ir craft.
Lorquas Ptomel was too astute an old warrior to be caught upon the open plain_ith a caravan of chariots and children, and so we remained at the deserte_ity until the danger seemed passed.
As Sola and I entered the plaza a sight met my eyes which filled my whol_eing with a great surge of mingled hope, fear, exultation, and depression,
and yet most dominant was a subtle sense of relief and happiness; for just a_e neared the throng of Martians I caught a glimpse of the prisoner from th_attle craft who was being roughly dragged into a nearby building by a coupl_f green Martian females.
And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, simila_n every detail to the earthly women of my past life. She did not see me a_irst, but just as she was disappearing through the portal of the buildin_hich was to be her prison she turned, and her eyes met mine. Her face wa_val and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled an_xquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass o_oal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure.
Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glo_f her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with _trangely enhancing effect.
She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her;
indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, no_ould any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrica_igure.
As her gaze rested on me her eyes opened wide in astonishment, and she made _ittle sign with her free hand; a sign which I did not, of course, understand.
Just a moment we gazed upon each other, and then the look of hope and renewe_ourage which had glorified her face as she discovered me, faded into one o_tter dejection, mingled with loathing and contempt. I realized I had no_nswered her signal, and ignorant as I was of Martian customs, I intuitivel_elt that she had made an appeal for succor and protection which m_nfortunate ignorance had prevented me from answering. And then she wa_ragged out of my sight into the depths of the deserted edifice.