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Chapter 10 A Mysterious Rescuer

  • Their way led through tangled growths of trees and vines that were like unrea_hings of a dream. Unreal they were, too, in their strange degree o_ivingness, for there were snaky tendrils that drew back as if in fear a_heir approach and stalks that folded great, thorny leaves protectingly abou_ulpy centers at the first touch of a hand. The world of vegetation seeme_trangely sentient and aware of their approach. Only the leprous-white tree_emained motionless; their red-veined trunks towered high in air, and the su_f late afternoon shot slantingly through a leafy roof overhead.
  • Twice Chet let the others go on ahead while he slipped silently into som_ocky concealment and watched with staring, anxious eyes back along thei_rail. But the little stream's gurgling whisper was the only voice, and in al_he weird jungle there was no movement but for the unfolding of the vegetatio_here they had passed.
  • "Nerves!" he reproached himself. "You're getting jumpy, and that won't do."
  • But once more he let the others climb on while he stepped quickly behind _rojecting rock over which he could look.
  • Again there was silence; again the leaves unfolded their thorny wrapping_hile vermiform tendrils crept across the ground or reached tentatively int_he air. And then, while the silence was unbroken, while no evidence cam_hrough his feeble, human senses, something approached.
  • Neither sight nor sound betrayed it—this something, that came noiselessl_fter—but a tell-tale plant whipped its leaves into their former wrapping; _ine drew its hanging clusters of flowers sharply into the air. The unseein_atchers of the forest had sensed what was unheard and unseen, and Chet kne_hat his own inner warning had been true.
  • He waited to see this mysterious pursuer come into view; and after waiting i_ain he realized the folly of thinking himself concealed. He glanced abou_im; every plant was drawn tightly upon itself. With silent voices they wer_roclaiming his hiding place, warning this other to wait, telling him tha_omeone was hidden here.
  • Chet's face, despite his apprehension, drew into a whimsical, silent grin. "N_hance to ambush him, whoever he is or whatever it is," he told himself. "Bu_hat works two ways: he can't jump us when we're prepared; not in daylight, anyway."
  • And he asked himself a question he could not answer: "I wonder," he whispere_oftly, "—I wonder what these plants will do at night!"
  • Almost they could see the swift descent of the sun. Each flashing glint o_ight through the dense growth came from lower down toward the invisibl_orizon. It shone at last where Chet cast anxious glances about upon a moun_f rocks.
  • Rough blocks of tremendous size had been left here from some seismi_isturbance. Like the ruins of a castle they were heaped high in air. Even th_ree growths stopped at their base, and above them was an opening in the roo_f tangled branches and leaves—a rough circle of clear, blue sky.
  • "How about making camp?" Chet asked. "This place looks good to me. I woul_ust as soon be up off the ground a bit."
  • Harkness looked at the pile of rocks; glanced once toward the sun. "Right!" h_greed. "This will do for our first camp."
  • "You've named it," Chet told him as he scrambled to the top of a great block.
  • He extended a hand to Diane, standing tired and breathless at its side.
  • "Welcome to First Camp!" he told her. "Take this elevator for the first te_loors."
  • He drew her up to the top of the block. Harkness joined them, and Diane, though she tried to smile in response to Chet, did not refuse their help i_aking the ascent; the day's experiences had told on all of them.
  • Thirty or forty feet above the ground was Chet's estimate. From the top o_heir little fort they watched the shadows of night sweep swiftly down. Scru_ree growths whose roots had anchored among the rocks gave them shelter, whil_ines and mosses softened the hard outlines of the labyrinth of stones.
  • Chet undid the package of meat and passed it out freely. There had bee_curryings and rustlings in the jungle growth that had reassured him in th_atter of food. Darkness fell as they ate; then it gave way to a new flood o_ight.
  • Golden light from a monstrous moon! It sent searching fingers through rifts i_he leafy roof, then poured itself over the edge of the opening above in _ascade of glory. And, though each one of the four raised his eyes toward tha_istant globe and knew it for the Earth, no word was said; they ate their foo_n silence while the silent night wrapped them about.
  • Still in silence they prepared for the night. Chet and Harkness improvised _ed for Diane in the shelter of a sheer-rising rock. They tore off pieces o_oss and stripped leaves from the climbing vines to make a mattress for her; then withdrew with Kreiss to a short distance while Chet told them of hi_uspicions.
  • "Six hours of night," he said at last; "that means two hours for each of us.
  • We'll take turns standing guard."
  • Harkness insisted upon being first. Chet flipped a coin with Kreiss and dre_he last turn of guard duty. He stretched himself out on a bit of ground wher_egetation had gained a foothold among the rocks.
  • "It's going to take me a while to get used to these short days," he said. "Si_ours of daylight; six hours of night. This is a funny, little world—but it'_he only one we've got."
  • The night air was softly warm; the day had been hard on muscles and nerves.
  • Chet stared toward the glorious ball of light that was their moon. There wer_en and women there who were going about their normal affairs. Ships wer_oaring through the air at their appointed levels; their pilots were checkin_heir courses, laughing, joking.
  • Chet resolutely withdrew his eyes. Think? Hell, no! That was one thing that h_ust not do. He threw one arm across his eyes to shut out the light tha_rought visions of a world he would never see again—that emphasized the utte_opelessness of their position… . His next conscious sensation was of hi_houlder being shaken, while the hushed voice of Doctor Kreiss said:
  • "Your turn now, Herr Bullard; four hours have you slept."
  • From Kreiss, Chet took the pistol with its seven precious shells. "All quiet,"
  • Kreiss told him as he prepared to take Chet's place on the soft leaves;
  • "strange, flying things have I seen, but they do not come near. And of you_ysterious pursuer we have seen nothing. You imagined it, perhaps."
  • "I might have imagined it," Chet answered, "but don't try to tell me that th_lants did. I'll give this vegetation credit for some damned uncanny power_ut not for imagination—I draw the line there."
  • He looked toward the highest point of rock and shook his head. "Too plain _arget if I'm up there," he argued, and took up his position in the shadow_nstead.
  • Once he moved cautiously toward the place they had prepared for Diane. She wa_reathing softly and regularly. And on the rock at her side, with only hi_acket for a bed, lay Harkness. Their hands were clasped, and Chet knew tha_he girl slept peacefully in the assurance of that touch.
  • "They don't make 'em any finer!" he was telling himself, and at the sam_oment he stiffened abruptly to attention.
  • Something was moving! Through and above the hushed noises of the night ha_ome a gliding sound. It was an indescribable sound, too elusive fo_dentification; and Chet, in the next instant, could not be sure of it_eality. He did not call, but swung alertly back on guard and slipped fro_hadow to shadow as he made his way across the welter of rocks.
  • He stopped at last in strained listening to the silent night. One hand upon _reat stone block at his side steadied his body in tense, poise_oncentration.
  • From afar came a whistling note whose thin keenness was mingled with a squea_f fright: some marauder of the night had found its prey. From the leaf_anopy above him voices whispered as the night wind set a myriad leaves i_otion. The thousand tiny sounds that blend to make the silence of the dark!
  • These he heard, and nothing more, while he forced himself to listen beyon_hem. He followed with his eyes the creeping flood of Earth-light that cam_lantingly now through the opening above to half-illumine this rocky world; and then, in the far margin of that light he found something on which his eye_ocused sharply—something that moved!
  • Walt!—Kreiss—he must arouse them! A shout of alarm was in his throat—a shou_hat was never uttered. For, from the darkness at his back—not where thi_oving thing had been disclosed by the friendly Earth-light, but from th_lace he had just left—came a scream of pure terror. It was the shockin_cream of a person roused from sleep in utter fright, and the voice was tha_f Diane.
  • "Walter!" she cried! "Walt!" There were other words that ended in _trangling, choking sound, while a hoarse shout from Harkness merged into _iscord that rang horribly through the still night.
  • Chet was racing across the rocks; the pistol was in his hand. What fearfu_hing would he face? What was it that had attacked? He forced his leaden fee_o carry him on in a succession of wild leaps. Forgotten was the menace behin_im, although he half saw, half sensed, a shadow that moved faster than h_long the upper rocks. He thought only of the unknown horror that was ahead, that had drawn that despairing shriek from the brave lips of Diane. The fe_econds of his crossing were an age in length.
  • One last spring, one vivid instant while the Earth-light marked in shar_istinctness the figure of a leaping man! It was Harkness, throwing himsel_nto the air, trying vainly to reach the struggling form of Diane Delacouer.
  • She was held high above his head, and she was wrapped in the coils of _onster serpent—coils that finished in a smoothly-rounded end. And Chet kne_n that instant of horror that the thing was headless!
  • He was raising his pistol to fire; the long moments that seemed never to en_ere in actuality an instant. Where should he aim? He must not injure Diane.
  • From the high rocks beside him came a glint of light, a straight line o_eflected brilliance as from a poised and slender shaft. It moved, it flashe_ownward, it hissed angrily as it passed close to Chet's head. It went on, _pear like a flash of light—on and down, to drive sharply into the body o_hat serpent shape! And the coils, at that blow, relaxed, while the figure o_iane Delacouer fell limply to the outstretched, cushioning arms of the ma_elow… .
  • Had the weapon been thrown with uncanny accuracy, or had it been meant fo_im? Chet could not be sure. But he knew that before him Walt Harkness wa_ending protectingly above the unconscious figure of a girl, while above an_bout the two there flailed a terrible, headless thing that beat the rock_ith sledge-hammer blows. It struck Harkness once and sent him staggering, an_nce it came close to Chet so that his hands closed upon it for an instant.
  • And with the touch he knew that this serpent was no animal shape, but worse—_reeping tendril from some flesh-eating horror of the vegetable world.
  • He dashed in beside Walt; he saw Kreiss hurrying across the rocks. They ha_iane safely out of reach of the threshing, striking thing before th_cientist arrived.
  • The spear that had passed close to Chet had pinned this deadly thing to earth; it tore loose as they watched, and the wounded tendril, with the spear stil_anging from its side, slid swiftly down the slope and into the darkness a_he foot of the rocks.
  • Even the calm preciseness of Herr Kreiss was shattered by the attack. In _onfusion of words he stammered questions that went unanswered. Chet thrus_is pistol into Harkness' hands and was off down the rocky slope toward th_prings where they had got water for their evening meal. A rolled leaf made _up that he held carefully while he climbed back. A few minutes later th_allid face of Diane showed a faint flush, while she drew a choking breath.
  • Harkness held the girl's head in his arms; he was uttering words of endearmen_hat were mingled with vicious curses for the thing that had escaped.
  • "Never mind that," argued Chet; "that one won't bother us again, and afte_his we will be on guard. But here is something to wonder about. What abou_his spear? Where did it come from?"
  • Harkness had eyes only for Diane's tremulous smile. "I am all right, truly,"
  • she assured him. Only then did he turn in bewilderment to Chet.
  • "I thought you threw it! But of course not; you couldn't; we didn't have an_pears."
  • "No," said Chet; "I didn't throw it. I saw something moving over acros_here"—he pointed toward the farther rocks where he had been—"I was going t_all when Diane's scream beat me to it. But what I saw wasn't the thing tha_ttacked her. And if it was the same one who threw that spear he must hav_ome across here in a hurry. And that spear, by the way, came uncomfortabl_lose to my head. I'm not at all sure but it was meant for me."
  • Harkness released his arms from Diane, for she was now able to sit erect. H_icked up the crude bow that had been beside him and fitted an arrow to th_tring.
  • "I'll go and have a look," he promised grimly. But Chet held him back.
  • "You're not thinking straight; this shock has knocked you out of control. I_hat little stranger with the spear meant to help us there's no need o_unting him out; he doesn't seem anxious to show himself. And if he meant i_or me, he's still too good a shot to fool with in the dark. You stick her_ntil daylight."
  • "That is good advice," Herr Kreiss agreed. "The night, it will soon be gone."
  • He was looking at the leafy opening overhead where the golden light of _istant Earth was fading before the glow of approaching day.