For an instant I stood there thinking of her, and then, with a sigh, I tucke_he book in the thong that supported my loin cloth, and turned to leave th_partment. At the bottom of the corridor which leads aloft from the lowe_hambers I whistled in accordance with the prearranged signal which was t_nnounce to Perry and Ghak that I had been successful. A moment later the_tood beside me, and to my surprise I saw that Hooja the Sly One accompanie_hem.
"He joined us," explained Perry, "and would not be denied. The fellow is _ox. He scents escape, and rather than be thwarted of our chance now I tol_im that I would bring him to you, and let you decide whether he migh_ccompany us."
I had no love for Hooja, and no confidence in him. I was sure that if h_hought it would profit him he would betray us; but I saw no way out of i_ow, and the fact that I had killed four Mahars instead of only the three _ad expected to, made it possible to include the fellow in our scheme o_scape.
"Very well," I said, "you may come with us, Hooja; but at the first intimatio_f treachery I shall run my sword through you. Do you understand?"
He said that he did.
Some time later we had removed the skins from the four Mahars, and s_ucceeded in crawling inside of them ourselves that there seemed an excellen_hance for us to pass unnoticed from Phutra. It was not an easy thing t_asten the hides together where we had split them along the belly to remov_hem from their carcasses, but by remaining out until the others had all bee_ewed in with my help, and then leaving an aperture in the breast of Perry'_kin through which he could pass his hands to sew me up, we were enabled t_ccomplish our design to really much better purpose than I had hoped. W_anaged to keep the heads erect by passing our swords up through the necks,
and by the same means were enabled to move them about in a life-like manner.
We had our greatest difficulty with the webbed feet, but even that problem wa_inally solved, so that when we moved about we did so quite naturally. Tin_oles punctured in the baggy throats into which our heads were thrus_ermitted us to see well enough to guide our progress.
Thus we started up toward the main floor of the building. Ghak headed th_trange procession, then came Perry, followed by Hooja, while I brought up th_ear, after admonishing Hooja that I had so arranged my sword that I coul_hrust it through the head of my disguise into his vitals were he to show an_ndication of faltering.
As the noise of hurrying feet warned me that we were entering the bus_orridors of the main level, my heart came up into my mouth. It is with n_ense of shame that I admit that I was frightened—never before in my life, no_ince, did I experience any such agony of soulsearing fear and suspense a_nveloped me. If it be possible to sweat blood, I sweat it then.
Slowly, after the manner of locomotion habitual to the Mahars, when they ar_ot using their wings, we crept through throngs of busy slaves, Sagoths, an_ahars. After what seemed an eternity we reached the outer door which lead_nto the main avenue of Phutra. Many Sagoths loitered near the opening. The_lanced at Ghak as he padded between them. Then Perry passed, and then Hooja.
Now it was my turn, and then in a sudden fit of freezing terror I realize_hat the warm blood from my wounded arm was trickling down through the dea_oot of the Mahar skin I wore and leaving its tell-tale mark upon th_avement, for I saw a Sagoth call a companion's attention to it.
The guard stepped before me and pointing to my bleeding foot spoke to me i_he sign language which these two races employ as a means of communication.
Even had I known what he was saying I could not have replied with the dea_hing that covered me. I once had seen a great Mahar freeze a presumptuou_agoth with a look. It seemed my only hope, and so I tried it. Stopping in m_racks I moved my sword so that it made the dead head appear to turn inquirin_yes upon the gorilla-man. For a long moment I stood perfectly still, eyein_he fellow with those dead eyes. Then I lowered the head and started slowl_n. For a moment all hung in the balance, but before I touched him the guar_tepped to one side, and I passed on out into the avenue.
On we went up the broad street, but now we were safe for the very numbers o_ur enemies that surrounded us on all sides. Fortunately, there was a grea_oncourse of Mahars repairing to the shallow lake which lies a mile or mor_rom the city. They go there to indulge their amphibian proclivities in divin_or small fish, and enjoying the cool depths of the water. It is a fresh-wate_ake, shallow, and free from the larger reptiles which make the use of th_reat seas of Pellucidar impossible for any but their own kind.
In the thick of the crowd we passed up the steps and out onto the plain. Fo_ome distance Ghak remained with the stream that was traveling toward th_ake, but finally, at the bottom of a little gully he halted, and there w_emained until all had passed and we were alone. Then, still in our disguises,
we set off directly away from Phutra.
The heat of the vertical rays of the sun was fast making our horrible prison_nbearable, so that after passing a low divide, and entering a shelterin_orest, we finally discarded the Mahar skins that had brought us thus far i_afety.
I shall not weary you with the details of that bitter and galling flight. Ho_e traveled at a dogged run until we dropped in our tracks. How we were bese_y strange and terrible beasts. How we barely escaped the cruel fangs of lion_nd tigers the size of which would dwarf into pitiful insignificance th_reatest felines of the outer world.
On and on we raced, our one thought to put as much distance between ourselve_nd Phutra as possible. Ghak was leading us to his own land—the land of Sari.
No sign of pursuit had developed, and yet we were sure that somewhere behin_s relentless Sagoths were dogging our tracks. Ghak said they never failed t_unt down their quarry until they had captured it or themselves been turne_ack by a superior force.
Our only hope, he said, lay in reaching his tribe which was quite stron_nough in their mountain fastness to beat off any number of Sagoths.
At last, after what seemed months, and may, I now realize, have been years, w_ame in sight of the dun escarpment which buttressed the foothills of Sari. A_lmost the same instant, Hooja, who looked ever quite as much behind a_efore, announced that he could see a body of men far behind us topping a lo_idge in our wake. It was the long-expected pursuit.
I asked Ghak if we could make Sari in time to escape them.
"We may," he replied; "but you will find that the Sagoths can move wit_ncredible swiftness, and as they are almost tireless they are doubtless muc_resher than we. Then—" he paused, glancing at Perry.
I knew what he meant. The old man was exhausted. For much of the period of ou_light either Ghak or I had half supported him on the march. With such _andicap, less fleet pursuers than the Sagoths might easily overtake us befor_e could scale the rugged heights which confronted us.
"You and Hooja go on ahead," I said. "Perry and I will make it if we are able.
We cannot travel as rapidly as you two, and there is no reason why all shoul_e lost because of that. It can't be helped—we have simply to face it."
"I will not desert a companion," was Ghak's simple reply. I hadn't known tha_his great, hairy, primeval man had any such nobility of character stowed awa_nside him. I had always liked him, but now to my liking was added honor an_espect. Yes, and love.
But still I urged him to go on ahead, insisting that if he could reach hi_eople he might be able to bring out a sufficient force to drive off th_agoths and rescue Perry and myself.
No, he wouldn't leave us, and that was all there was to it, but he suggeste_hat Hooja might hurry on and warn the Sarians of the king's danger. It didn'_equire much urging to start Hooja—the naked idea was enough to send hi_eaping on ahead of us into the foothills which we now had reached.
Perry realized that he was jeopardizing Ghak's life and mine and the ol_ellow fairly begged us to go on without him, although I knew that he wa_uffering a perfect anguish of terror at the thought of falling into the hand_f the Sagoths. Ghak finally solved the problem, in part, by lifting Perry i_is powerful arms and carrying him. While the act cut down Ghak's speed h_till could travel faster thus than when half supporting the stumbling ol_an.