As I stood upon the bluff before my cottage on that clear cold night in th_arly part of March, 1886, the noble Hudson flowing like the grey and silen_pectre of a dead river below me, I felt again the strange, compellin_nfluence of the mighty god of war, my beloved Mars, which for ten long an_onesome years I had implored with outstretched arms to carry me back to m_ost love.
Not since that other March night in 1866, when I had stood without tha_rizona cave in which my still and lifeless body lay wrapped in the similitud_f earthly death had I felt the irresistible attraction of the god of m_rofession.
With arms outstretched toward the red eye of the great star I stood prayin_or a return of that strange power which twice had drawn me through th_mmensity of space, praying as I had prayed on a thousand nights before durin_he long ten years that I had waited and hoped.
Suddenly a qualm of nausea swept over me, my senses swam, my knees gav_eneath me and I pitched headlong to the ground upon the very verge of th_izzy bluff.
Instantly my brain cleared and there swept back across the threshold of m_emory the vivid picture of the horrors of that ghostly Arizona cave; again, as on that far-gone night, my muscles refused to respond to my will and again, as though even here upon the banks of the placid Hudson, I could hear th_wful moans and rustling of the fearsome thing which had lurked and threatene_e from the dark recesses of the cave, I made the same mighty and superhuma_ffort to break the bonds of the strange anaesthesia which held me, and agai_ame the sharp click as of the sudden parting of a taut wire, and I stoo_aked and free beside the staring, lifeless thing that had so recently pulse_ith the warm, red life-blood of John Carter.
With scarcely a parting glance I turned my eyes again toward Mars, lifted m_ands toward his lurid rays, and waited.
Nor did I have long to wait; for scarce had I turned ere I shot with th_apidity of thought into the awful void before me. There was the same instan_f unthinkable cold and utter darkness that I had experienced twenty year_efore, and then I opened my eyes in another world, beneath the burning ray_f a hot sun, which beat through a tiny opening in the dome of the might_orest in which I lay.
The scene that met my eyes was so un-Martian that my heart sprang to my throa_s the sudden fear swept through me that I had been aimlessly tossed upon som_trange planet by a cruel fate.
Why not? What guide had I through the trackless waste of interplanetary space?
What assurance that I might not as well be hurtled to some far-distant star o_nother solar system, as to Mars?
I lay upon a close-cropped sward of red grasslike vegetation, and about m_tretched a grove of strange and beautiful trees, covered with huge an_orgeous blossoms and filled with brilliant, voiceless birds. I call the_irds since they were winged, but mortal eye ne'er rested on such odd, unearthly shapes.
The vegetation was similar to that which covers the lawns of the red Martian_f the great waterways, but the trees and birds were unlike anything that _ad ever seen upon Mars, and then through the further trees I could see tha_ost un-Martian of all sights—an open sea, its blue waters shimmering beneat_he brazen sun.
As I rose to investigate further I experienced the same ridiculous catastroph_hat had met my first attempt to walk under Martian conditions. The lesse_ttraction of this smaller planet and the reduced air pressure of its greatl_arefied atmosphere, afforded so little resistance to my earthly muscles tha_he ordinary exertion of the mere act of rising sent me several feet into th_ir and precipitated me upon my face in the soft and brilliant grass of thi_trange world.
This experience, however, gave me some slightly increased assurance that, after all, I might indeed be in some, to me, unknown corner of Mars, and thi_as very possible since during my ten years' residence upon the planet I ha_xplored but a comparatively tiny area of its vast expanse.
I arose again, laughing at my forgetfulness, and soon had mastered once mor_he art of attuning my earthly sinews to these changed conditions.
As I walked slowly down the imperceptible slope toward the sea I could no_elp but note the park-like appearance of the sward and trees. The grass wa_s close-cropped and carpet-like as some old English lawn and the tree_hemselves showed evidence of careful pruning to a uniform height of abou_ifteen feet from the ground, so that as one turned his glance in an_irection the forest had the appearance at a little distance of a vast, high- ceiled chamber.
All these evidences of careful and systematic cultivation convinced me that _ad been fortunate enough to make my entry into Mars on this second occasio_hrough the domain of a civilized people and that when I should find them _ould be accorded the courtesy and protection that my rank as a Prince of th_ouse of Tardos Mors entitled me to.
The trees of the forest attracted my deep admiration as I proceeded toward th_ea. Their great stems, some of them fully a hundred feet in diameter, attested their prodigious height, which I could only guess at, since at n_oint could I penetrate their dense foliage above me to more than sixty o_ighty feet.
As far aloft as I could see the stems and branches and twigs were as smoot_nd as highly polished as the newest of American-made pianos. The wood of som_f the trees was as black as ebony, while their nearest neighbours migh_erhaps gleam in the subdued light of the forest as clear and white as th_inest china, or, again, they were azure, scarlet, yellow, or deepest purple.
And in the same way was the foliage as gay and variegated as the stems, whil_he blooms that clustered thick upon them may not be described in any earthl_ongue, and indeed might challenge the language of the gods.
As I neared the confines of the forest I beheld before me and between th_rove and the open sea, a broad expanse of meadow land, and as I was about t_merge from the shadows of the trees a sight met my eyes that banished al_omantic and poetic reflection upon the beauties of the strange landscape.
To my left the sea extended as far as the eye could reach, before me only _ague, dim line indicated its further shore, while at my right a mighty river, broad, placid, and majestic, flowed between scarlet banks to empty into th_uiet sea before me.
At a little distance up the river rose mighty perpendicular bluffs, from th_ery base of which the great river seemed to rise.
But it was not these inspiring and magnificent evidences of Nature's grandeu_hat took my immediate attention from the beauties of the forest. It was th_ight of a score of figures moving slowly about the meadow near the bank o_he mighty river.
Odd, grotesque shapes they were; unlike anything that I had ever seen upo_ars, and yet, at a distance, most manlike in appearance. The larger specimen_ppeared to be about ten or twelve feet in height when they stood erect, an_o be proportioned as to torso and lower extremities precisely as is earthl_an.
Their arms, however, were very short, and from where I stood seemed as thoug_ashioned much after the manner of an elephant's trunk, in that they moved i_inuous and snakelike undulations, as though entirely without bony structure, or if there were bones it seemed that they must be vertebral in nature.
As I watched them from behind the stem of a huge tree, one of the creature_oved slowly in my direction, engaged in the occupation that seemed to be th_rincipal business of each of them, and which consisted in running their oddl_haped hands over the surface of the sward, for what purpose I could no_etermine.
As he approached quite close to me I obtained an excellent view of him, an_hough I was later to become better acquainted with his kind, I may say tha_hat single cursory examination of this awful travesty on Nature would hav_roved quite sufficient to my desires had I been a free agent. The fastes_lier of the Heliumetic Navy could not quickly enough have carried me far fro_his hideous creature.
Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a broad band o_hite which encircled its protruding, single eye: an eye that was all dea_hite—pupil, iris, and ball.
Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of its blan_ace; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I could think of othe_han a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to bleed.
Below this repulsive orifice the face was quite blank to the chin, for th_hing had no mouth that I could discover.
The head, with the exception of the face, was covered by a tangled mass o_et-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each hair was about th_igness of a large angleworm, and as the thing moved the muscles of its scal_his awful head-covering seemed to writhe and wriggle and crawl about th_earsome face as though indeed each separate hair was endowed with independen_ife.
The body and the legs were as symmetrically human as Nature could hav_ashioned them, and the feet, too, were human in shape, but of monstrou_roportions. From heel to toe they were fully three feet long, and very fla_nd very broad.
As it came quite close to me I discovered that its strange movements, runnin_ts odd hands over the surface of the turf, were the result of its peculia_ethod of feeding, which consists in cropping off the tender vegetation wit_ts razorlike talons and sucking it up from its two mouths, which lie one i_he palm of each hand, through its arm-like throats.
In addition to the features which I have already described, the beast wa_quipped with a massive tail about six feet in length, quite round where i_oined the body, but tapering to a flat, thin blade toward the end, whic_railed at right angles to the ground.
By far the most remarkable feature of this most remarkable creature, however, were the two tiny replicas of it, each about six inches in length, whic_angled, one on either side, from its armpits. They were suspended by a smal_tem which seemed to grow from the exact tops of their heads to where i_onnected them with the body of the adult.
Whether they were the young, or merely portions of a composite creature, I di_ot know.
As I had been scrutinizing this weird monstrosity the balance of the herd ha_ed quite close to me and I now saw that while many had the smaller specimen_angling from them, not all were thus equipped, and I further noted that th_ittle ones varied in size from what appeared to be but tiny unopened buds a_nch in diameter through various stages of development to the full-fledged an_erfectly formed creature of ten to twelve inches in length.
Feeding with the herd were many of the little fellows not much larger tha_hose which remained attached to their parents, and from the young of tha_ize the herd graded up to the immense adults.
Fearsome-looking as they were, I did not know whether to fear them or not, fo_hey did not seem to be particularly well equipped for fighting, and I was o_he point of stepping from my hiding-place and revealing myself to them t_ote the effect upon them of the sight of a man when my rash resolve was, fortunately for me, nipped in the bud by a strange shrieking wail, whic_eemed to come from the direction of the bluffs at my right.
Naked and unarmed, as I was, my end would have been both speedy and horribl_t the hands of these cruel creatures had I had time to put my resolve int_xecution, but at the moment of the shriek each member of the herd turned i_he direction from which the sound seemed to come, and at the same instan_very particular snake-like hair upon their heads rose stiffly perpendicula_s if each had been a sentient organism looking or listening for the source o_eaning of the wail. And indeed the latter proved to be the truth, for thi_trange growth upon the craniums of the plant men of Barsoom represents th_housand ears of these hideous creatures, the last remnant of the strange rac_hich sprang from the original Tree of Life.
Instantly every eye turned toward one member of the herd, a large fellow wh_vidently was the leader. A strange purring sound issued from the mouth in th_alm of one of his hands, and at the same time he started rapidly toward th_luff, followed by the entire herd.
Their speed and method of locomotion were both remarkable, springing as the_id in great leaps of twenty or thirty feet, much after the manner of _angaroo.
They were rapidly disappearing when it occurred to me to follow them, and so, hurling caution to the winds, I sprang across the meadow in their wake wit_eaps and bounds even more prodigious than their own, for the muscles of a_thletic Earth man produce remarkable results when pitted against the lesse_ravity and air pressure of Mars.
Their way led directly towards the apparent source of the river at the base o_he cliffs, and as I neared this point I found the meadow dotted with hug_oulders that the ravages of time had evidently dislodged from the towerin_rags above.
For this reason I came quite close to the cause of the disturbance before th_cene broke upon my horrified gaze. As I topped a great boulder I saw the her_f plant men surrounding a little group of perhaps five or six green men an_omen of Barsoom.
That I was indeed upon Mars I now had no doubt, for here were members of th_ild hordes that people the dead sea bottoms and deserted cities of that dyin_lanet.
Here were the great males towering in all the majesty of their imposin_eight; here were the gleaming white tusks protruding from their massive lowe_aws to a point near the centre of their foreheads, the laterally placed, protruding eyes with which they could look forward or backward, or to eithe_ide without turning their heads, here the strange antennae-like ears risin_rom the tops of their foreheads; and the additional pair of arms extendin_rom midway between the shoulders and the hips.
Even without the glossy green hide and the metal ornaments which denoted th_ribes to which they belonged, I would have known them on the instant for wha_hey were, for where else in all the universe is their like duplicated?
There were two men and four females in the party and their ornaments denote_hem as members of different hordes, a fact which tended to puzzle m_nfinitely, since the various hordes of green men of Barsoom are eternally a_eadly war with one another, and never, except on that single histori_nstance when the great Tars Tarkas of Thark gathered a hundred and fift_housand green warriors from several hordes to march upon the doomed city o_odanga to rescue Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, from the clutches of Tha_osis, had I seen green Martians of different hordes associated in other tha_ortal combat.
But now they stood back to back, facing, in wide-eyed amazement, the ver_vidently hostile demonstrations of a common enemy.
Both men and women were armed with long-swords and daggers, but no firearm_ere in evidence, else it had been short shrift for the gruesome plant men o_arsoom.
Presently the leader of the plant men charged the little party, and his metho_f attack was as remarkable as it was effective, and by its very strangenes_as the more potent, since in the science of the green warriors there was n_efence for this singular manner of attack, the like of which it soon wa_vident to me they were as unfamiliar with as they were with the monstrositie_hich confronted them.
The plant man charged to within a dozen feet of the party and then, with _ound, rose as though to pass directly above their heads. His powerful tai_as raised high to one side, and as he passed close above them he brought i_own in one terrific sweep that crushed a green warrior's skull as though i_ad been an eggshell.
The balance of the frightful herd was now circling rapidly and wit_ewildering speed about the little knot of victims. Their prodigious bound_nd the shrill, screeching purr of their uncanny mouths were well calculate_o confuse and terrorize their prey, so that as two of them leape_imultaneously from either side, the mighty sweep of those awful tails me_ith no resistance and two more green Martians went down to an ignoble death.
There were now but one warrior and two females left, and it seemed that i_ould be but a matter of seconds ere these, also, lay dead upon the scarle_ward.
But as two more of the plant men charged, the warrior, who was now prepared b_he experiences of the past few minutes, swung his mighty long-sword aloft an_et the hurtling bulk with a clean cut that clove one of the plant men fro_hin to groin.
The other, however, dealt a single blow with his cruel tail that laid both o_he females crushed corpses upon the ground.
As the green warrior saw the last of his companions go down and at the sam_ime perceived that the entire herd was charging him in a body, he rushe_oldly to meet them, swinging his long-sword in the terrific manner that I ha_o often seen the men of his kind wield it in their ferocious and almos_ontinual warfare among their own race.
Cutting and hewing to right and left, he laid an open path straight throug_he advancing plant men, and then commenced a mad race for the forest, in th_helter of which he evidently hoped that he might find a haven of refuge.
He had turned for that portion of the forest which abutted on the cliffs, an_hus the mad race was taking the entire party farther and farther from th_oulder where I lay concealed.
As I had watched the noble fight which the great warrior had put up agains_uch enormous odds my heart had swelled in admiration for him, and acting as _m wont to do, more upon impulse than after mature deliberation, I instantl_prang from my sheltering rock and bounded quickly toward the bodies of th_ead green Martians, a well-defined plan of action already formed.
Half a dozen great leaps brought me to the spot, and another instant saw m_gain in my stride in quick pursuit of the hideous monsters that were rapidl_aining on the fleeing warrior, but this time I grasped a mighty long-sword i_y hand and in my heart was the old blood lust of the fighting man, and a re_ist swam before my eyes and I felt my lips respond to my heart in the ol_mile that has ever marked me in the midst of the joy of battle.
Swift as I was I was none too soon, for the green warrior had been overtake_re he had made half the distance to the forest, and now he stood with hi_ack to a boulder, while the herd, temporarily balked, hissed and screeche_bout him.
With their single eyes in the centre of their heads and every eye turned upo_heir prey, they did not note my soundless approach, so that I was upon the_ith my great long-sword and four of them lay dead ere they knew that I wa_mong them.
For an instant they recoiled before my terrific onslaught, and in that instan_he green warrior rose to the occasion and, springing to my side, laid to th_ight and left of him as I had never seen but one other warrior do, with grea_ircling strokes that formed a figure eight about him and that never stoppe_ntil none stood living to oppose him, his keen blade passing through fles_nd bone and metal as though each had been alike thin air.
As we bent to the slaughter, far above us rose that shrill, weird cry which _ad heard once before, and which had called the herd to the attack upon thei_ictims. Again and again it rose, but we were too much engaged with the fierc_nd powerful creatures about us to attempt to search out even with our eye_he author of the horrid notes.
Great tails lashed in frenzied anger about us, razor-like talons cut our limb_nd bodies, and a green and sticky syrup, such as oozes from a crushe_aterpillar, smeared us from head to foot, for every cut and thrust of ou_ongswords brought spurts of this stuff upon us from the severed arteries o_he plant men, through which it courses in its sluggish viscidity in lieu o_lood.
Once I felt the great weight of one of the monsters upon my back and as kee_alons sank into my flesh I experienced the frightful sensation of moist lip_ucking the lifeblood from the wounds to which the claws still clung.
I was very much engaged with a ferocious fellow who was endeavouring to reac_y throat from in front, while two more, one on either side, were lashin_iciously at me with their tails.
The green warrior was much put to it to hold his own, and I felt that th_nequal struggle could last but a moment longer when the huge fello_iscovered my plight, and tearing himself from those that surrounded him, h_aked the assailant from my back with a single sweep of his blade, and thu_elieved I had little difficulty with the others.
Once together, we stood almost back to back against the great boulder, an_hus the creatures were prevented from soaring above us to deliver thei_eadly blows, and as we were easily their match while they remained upon th_round, we were making great headway in dispatching what remained of them whe_ur attention was again attracted by the shrill wail of the caller above ou_eads.
This time I glanced up, and far above us upon a little natural balcony on th_ace of the cliff stood a strange figure of a man shrieking out his shril_ignal, the while he waved one hand in the direction of the river's mouth a_hough beckoning to some one there, and with the other pointed an_esticulated toward us.
A glance in the direction toward which he was looking was sufficient t_pprise me of his aims and at the same time to fill me with the dread of dir_pprehension, for, streaming in from all directions across the meadow, fro_ut of the forest, and from the far distance of the flat land across th_iver, I could see converging upon us a hundred different lines of wildl_eaping creatures such as we were now engaged with, and with them some strang_ew monsters which ran with great swiftness, now erect and now upon all fours.
"It will be a great death," I said to my companion. "Look!"
As he shot a quick glance in the direction I indicated he smiled.
"We may at least die fighting and as great warriors should, John Carter," h_eplied.
We had just finished the last of our immediate antagonists as he spoke, and _urned in surprised wonderment at the sound of my name.
And there before my astonished eyes I beheld the greatest of the green men o_arsoom; their shrewdest statesman, their mightiest general, my great and goo_riend, Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.