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.