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Chapter 9 The Face of Death

  • I must have fallen asleep from exhaustion. When I awoke I was very hungry, an_fter busying myself searching for fruit for a while, I set off through th_ungle to find the beach. I knew that the island was not so large but that _ould easily find the sea if I did but move in a straight line, but there cam_he difficulty as there was no way in which I could direct my course and hol_t, the sun, of course, being always directly above my head, and the trees s_hickly set that I could see no distant object which might serve to guide m_n a straight line.
  • As it was I must have walked for a great distance since I ate four times an_lept twice before I reached the sea, but at last I did so, and my pleasure a_he sight of it was greatly enhanced by the chance discovery of a hidden cano_mong the bushes through which I had stumbled just prior to coming upon th_each.
  • I can tell you that it did not take me long to pull that awkward craft down t_he water and shove it far out from shore. My experience with Ja had taught m_hat if I were to steal another canoe I must be quick about it and get fa_eyond the owner's reach as soon as possible.
  • I must have come out upon the opposite side of the island from that at whic_a and I had entered it, for the mainland was nowhere in sight. For a lon_ime I paddled around the shore, though well out, before I saw the mainland i_he distance. At the sight of it I lost no time in directing my course towar_t, for I had long since made up my mind to return to Phutra and give mysel_p that I might be once more with Perry and Ghak the Hairy One.
  • I felt that I was a fool ever to have attempted to escape alone, especially i_iew of the fact that our plans were already well formulated to make a brea_or freedom together. Of course I realized that the chances of the success o_ur proposed venture were slim indeed, but I knew that I never could enjo_reedom without Perry so long as the old man lived, and I had learned that th_robability that I might find him was less than slight.
  • Had Perry been dead, I should gladly have pitted my strength and wit agains_he savage and primordial world in which I found myself. I could have lived i_eclusion within some rocky cave until I had found the means to outfit mysel_ith the crude weapons of the Stone Age, and then set out in search of he_hose image had now become the constant companion of my waking hours, and th_entral and beloved figure of my dreams.
  • But, to the best of my knowledge, Perry still lived and it was my duty an_ish to be again with him, that we might share the dangers and vicissitudes o_he strange world we had discovered. And Ghak, too; the great, shaggy man ha_ound a place in the hearts of us both, for he was indeed every inch a man an_ing. Uncouth, perhaps, and brutal, too, if judged too harshly by th_tandards of effete twentieth-century civilization, but withal noble,
  • dignified, chivalrous, and loveable.
  • Chance carried me to the very beach upon which I had discovered Ja's canoe,
  • and a short time later I was scrambling up the steep bank to retrace my step_rom the plain of Phutra. But my troubles came when I entered the canyo_eyond the summit, for here I found that several of them centered at the poin_here I crossed the divide, and which one I had traversed to reach the pass _ould not for the life of me remember.
  • It was all a matter of chance and so I set off down that which seemed th_asiest going, and in this I made the same mistake that many of us do i_electing the path along which we shall follow out the course of our lives,
  • and again learned that it is not always best to follow the line of leas_esistance.
  • By the time I had eaten eight meals and slept twice I was convinced that I wa_pon the wrong trail, for between Phutra and the inland sea I had not slept a_ll, and had eaten but once. To retrace my steps to the summit of the divid_nd explore another canyon seemed the only solution of my problem, but _udden widening and levelness of the canyon just before me seemed to sugges_hat it was about to open into a level country, and with the lure of discover_trong upon me I decided to proceed but a short distance farther before _urned back.
  • The next turn of the canyon brought me to its mouth, and before me I saw _arrow plain leading down to an ocean. At my right the side of the canyo_ontinued to the water's edge, the valley lying to my left, and the foot of i_unning gradually into the sea, where it formed a broad level beach.
  • Clumps of strange trees dotted the landscape here and there almost to th_ater, and rank grass and ferns grew between. From the nature of th_egetation I was convinced that the land between the ocean and the foothill_as swampy, though directly before me it seemed dry enough all the way to th_andy strip along which the restless waters advanced and retreated.
  • Curiosity prompted me to walk down to the beach, for the scene was ver_eautiful. As I passed along beside the deep and tangled vegetation of th_wamp I thought that I saw a movement of the ferns at my left, but though _topped a moment to look it was not repeated, and if anything lay hid there m_yes could not penetrate the dense foliage to discern it.
  • Presently I stood upon the beach looking out over the wide and lonely se_cross whose forbidding bosom no human being had yet ventured, to discove_hat strange and mysterious lands lay beyond, or what its invisible island_eld of riches, wonders, or adventure. What savage faces, what fierce an_ormidable beasts were this very instant watching the lapping of the wave_pon its farther shore! How far did it extend? Perry had told me that the sea_f Pellucidar were small in comparison with those of the outer crust, but eve_o this great ocean might stretch its broad expanse for thousands of miles.
  • For countless ages it had rolled up and down its countless miles of shore, an_et today it remained all unknown beyond the tiny strip that was visible fro_ts beaches.
  • The fascination of speculation was strong upon me. It was as though I had bee_arried back to the birth time of our own outer world to look upon its land_nd seas ages before man had traversed either. Here was a new world, al_ntouched. It called to me to explore it. I was dreaming of the excitement an_dventure which lay before us could Perry and I but escape the Mahars, whe_omething, a slight noise I imagine, drew my attention behind me.
  • As I turned, romance, adventure, and discovery in the abstract took win_efore the terrible embodiment of all three in concrete form that I behel_dvancing upon me.
  • A huge, slimy amphibian it was, with toad-like body and the mighty jaws of a_lligator. Its immense carcass must have weighed tons, and yet it move_wiftly and silently toward me. Upon one hand was the bluff that ran from th_anyon to the sea, on the other the fearsome swamp from which the creature ha_neaked upon me, behind lay the mighty untracked sea, and before me in th_enter of the narrow way that led to safety stood this huge mountain o_errible and menacing flesh.
  • A single glance at the thing was sufficient to assure me that I was facing on_f those long-extinct, prehistoric creatures whose fossilized remains ar_ound within the outer crust as far back as the Triassic formation, a giganti_abyrinthodon. And there I was, unarmed, and, with the exception of a loi_loth, as naked as I had come into the world. I could imagine how my firs_ncestor felt that distant, prehistoric morn that he encountered for the firs_ime the terrifying progenitor of the thing that had me cornered now besid_he restless, mysterious sea.
  • Unquestionably he had escaped, or I should not have been within Pellucidar o_lsewhere, and I wished at that moment that he had handed down to me with th_arious attributes that I presumed I have inherited from him, the specifi_pplication of the instinct of self-preservation which saved him from the fat_hich loomed so close before me today.
  • To seek escape in the swamp or in the ocean would have been similar to jumpin_nto a den of lions to escape one upon the outside. The sea and swamp bot_ere doubtless alive with these mighty, carnivorous amphibians, and if not,
  • the individual that menaced me would pursue me into either the sea or th_wamp with equal facility.
  • There seemed nothing to do but stand supinely and await my end. I thought o_erry—how he would wonder what had become of me. I thought of my friends o_he outer world, and of how they all would go on living their lives in tota_gnorance of the strange and terrible fate that had overtaken me, o_nguessing the weird surroundings which had witnessed the last frightful agon_f my extinction. And with these thoughts came a realization of ho_nimportant to the life and happiness of the world is the existence of any on_f us. We may be snuffed out without an instant's warning, and for a brief da_ur friends speak of us with subdued voices. The following morning, while th_irst worm is busily engaged in testing the construction of our coffin, the_re teeing up for the first hole to suffer more acute sorrow over a slice_all than they did over our, to us, untimely demise. The labyrinthodon wa_oming more slowly now. He seemed to realize that escape for me wa_mpossible, and I could have sworn that his huge, fanged jaws grinned i_leasurable appreciation of my predicament, or was it in anticipation of th_uicy morsel which would so soon be pulp between those formidable teeth?
  • He was about fifty feet from me when I heard a voice calling to me from th_irection of the bluff at my left. I looked and could have shouted in deligh_t the sight that met my eyes, for there stood Ja, waving frantically to me,
  • and urging me to run for it to the cliff's base.
  • I had no idea that I should escape the monster that had marked me for hi_reakfast, but at least I should not die alone. Human eyes would watch me end.
  • It was cold comfort I presume, but yet I derived some slight peace of min_rom the contemplation of it.
  • To run seemed ridiculous, especially toward that steep and unscalable cliff,
  • and yet I did so, and as I ran I saw Ja, agile as a monkey, crawl down th_recipitous face of the rocks, clinging to small projections, and the toug_reepers that had found root-hold here and there.
  • The labyrinthodon evidently thought that Ja was coming to double his portio_f human flesh, so he was in no haste to pursue me to the cliff and frighte_way this other tidbit. Instead he merely trotted along behind me.
  • As I approached the foot of the cliff I saw what Ja intended doing, but _oubted if the thing would prove successful. He had come down to within twent_eet of the bottom, and there, clinging with one hand to a small ledge, an_ith his feet resting, precariously upon tiny bushes that grew from the soli_ace of the rock, he lowered the point of his long spear until it hung som_ix feet above the ground.
  • To clamber up that slim shaft without dragging Ja down and precipitating bot_o the same doom from which the copper-colored one was attempting to save m_eemed utterly impossible, and as I came near the spear I told Ja so, and tha_ could not risk him to try to save myself.
  • But he insisted that he knew what he was doing and was in no danger himself.
  • "The danger is still yours," he called, "for unless you move much more rapidl_han you are now, the sithic will be upon you and drag you back before eve_ou are halfway up the spear—he can rear up and reach you with ease anywher_elow where I stand."
  • Well, Ja should know his own business, I thought, and so I grasped the spea_nd clambered up toward the red man as rapidly as I could—being so far remove_rom my simian ancestors as I am. I imagine the slow-witted sithic, as J_alled him, suddenly realized our intentions and that he was quite likely t_ose all his meal instead of having it doubled as he had hoped.
  • When he saw me clambering up that spear he let out a hiss that fairly shoo_he ground, and came charging after me at a terrific rate. I had reached th_op of the spear by this time, or almost; another six inches would give me _old on Ja's hand, when I felt a sudden wrench from below and glancin_earfully downward saw the mighty jaws of the monster close on the sharp poin_f the weapon.
  • I made a frantic effort to reach Ja's hand, the sithic gave a tremendous tu_hat came near to jerking Ja from his frail hold on the surface of the rock,
  • the spear slipped from his fingers, and still clinging to it I plunged fee_oremost toward my executioner.
  • At the instant that he felt the spear come away from Ja's hand the creatur_ust have opened his huge jaws to catch me, for when I came down, stil_linging to the butt end of the weapon, the point yet rested in his mouth an_he result was that the sharpened end transfixed his lower jaw.
  • With the pain he snapped his mouth closed. I fell upon his snout, lost my hol_pon the spear, rolled the length of his face and head, across his short nec_nto his broad back and from there to the ground.
  • Scarce had I touched the earth than I was upon my feet, dashing madly for th_ath by which I had entered this horrible valley. A glance over my shoulde_howed me the sithic engaged in pawing at the spear stuck through his lowe_aw, and so busily engaged did he remain in this occupation that I had gaine_he safety of the cliff top before he was ready to take up the pursuit. Whe_e did not discover me in sight within the valley he dashed, hissing into th_ank vegetation of the swamp and that was the last I saw of him.