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Chapter 12 "Follow the Rope"

  • What could it mean?
  • "Follow the rope." What rope?
  • Presently I recalled the cord that had been attached to the parcel when i_ell at my side, and after a little groping my hand came in contact with i_gain. It depended from above, and when I pulled upon it I discovered that i_as rigidly fastened, possibly at the pit's mouth.
  • Upon examination I found that the cord, though small, was amply able t_ustain the weight of several men. Then I made another discovery—there was _econd message knotted in the rope at about the height of my head. This _eciphered more easily, now that the key was mine.
  • "Bring the rope with you. Beyond the knots lies danger."
  • That was all there was to this message. It was evidently hastily formed—a_fterthought.
  • I did not pause longer than to learn the contents of the second message, and, though I was none too sure of the meaning of the final admonition, "Beyond th_nots lies danger," yet I was sure that here before me lay an avenue o_scape, and that the sooner I took advantage of it the more likely was I t_in to liberty.
  • At least, I could be but little worse off than I had been in the Pit o_lenty.
  • I was to find, however, ere I was well out of that damnable hole that I migh_ave been very much worse off had I been compelled to remain there another tw_inutes.
  • It had taken me about that length of time to ascend some fifty feet above th_ottom when a noise above attracted my attention. To my chagrin I saw that th_overing of the pit was being removed far above me, and in the light of th_ourtyard beyond I saw a number of yellow warriors.
  • Could it be that I was laboriously working my way into some new trap? Were th_essages spurious, after all? And then, just as my hope and courage had ebbe_o their lowest, I saw two things.
  • One was the body of a huge, struggling, snarling apt being lowered over th_ide of the pit toward me, and the other was an aperture in the side of th_haft—an aperture larger than a man's body, into which my rope led.
  • Just as I scrambled into the dark hole before me the apt passed me, reachin_ut with his mighty hands to clutch me, and snapping, growling, and roaring i_ most frightful manner.
  • Plainly now I saw the end for which Salensus Oll had destined me. After firs_orturing me with starvation he had caused this fierce beast to be lowere_nto my prison to finish the work that the jeddak's hellish imagination ha_onceived.
  • And then another truth flashed upon me—I had lived nine days of the allotte_en which must intervene before Salensus Oll could make Dejah Thoris hi_ueen. The purpose of the apt was to insure my death before the tenth day.
  • I almost laughed aloud as I thought how Salensus Oll's measure of safety wa_o aid in defeating the very end he sought, for when they discovered that th_pt was alone in the Pit of Plenty they could not know but that he ha_ompletely devoured me, and so no suspicion of my escape would cause a searc_o be made for me.
  • Coiling the rope that had carried me thus far upon my strange journey, _ought for the other end, but found that as I followed it forward it extende_lways before me. So this was the meaning of the words: "Follow the rope."
  • The tunnel through which I crawled was low and dark. I had followed it fo_everal hundred yards when I felt a knot beneath my fingers. "Beyond the knot_ies danger."
  • Now I went with the utmost caution, and a moment later a sharp turn in th_unnel brought me to an opening into a large, brilliantly lighted chamber.
  • The trend of the tunnel I had been traversing had been slightly upward, an_rom this I judged that the chamber into which I now found myself looking mus_e either on the first floor of the palace or directly beneath the firs_loor.
  • Upon the opposite wall were many strange instruments and devices, and in th_enter of the room stood a long table, at which two men were seated in earnes_onversation.
  • He who faced me was a yellow man—a little, wizened-up, pasty-faced old fello_ith great eyes that showed the white round the entire circumference of th_ris.
  • His companion was a black man, and I did not need to see his face to know tha_t was Thurid, for there was no other of the First Born north of the ice- barrier.
  • Thurid was speaking as I came within hearing of the men's voices.
  • "Solan," he was saying, "there is no risk and the reward is great. You kno_hat you hate Salensus Oll and that nothing would please you more than t_hwart him in some cherished plan. There be nothing that he more cherishe_oday than the idea of wedding the beautiful Princess of Helium; but I, too, want her, and with your help I may win her.
  • "You need not more than step from this room for an instant when I give you th_ignal. I will do the rest, and then, when I am gone, you may come and thro_he great switch back into its place, and all will be as before. I need but a_our's start to be safe beyond the devilish power that you control in thi_idden chamber beneath the palace of your master. See how easy," and with th_ords the black dator rose from his seat and, crossing the room, laid his han_pon a large, burnished lever that protruded from the opposite wall.
  • "No! No!" cried the little old man, springing after him, with a wild shriek.
  • "Not that one! Not that one! That controls the sunray tanks, and should yo_ull it too far down, all Kadabra would be consumed by heat before I coul_eplace it. Come away! Come away! You know not with what mighty powers yo_lay. This is the lever that you seek. Note well the symbol inlaid in whit_pon its ebon surface."
  • Thurid approached and examined the handle of the lever.
  • "Ah, a magnet," he said. "I will remember. It is settled then I take it," h_ontinued.
  • The old man hesitated. A look of combined greed and apprehension oversprea_is none too beautiful features.
  • "Double the figure," he said. "Even that were all too small an amount for th_ervice you ask. Why, I risk my life by even entertaining you here within th_orbidden precincts of my station. Should Salensus Oll learn of it he woul_ave me thrown to the apts before the day was done."
  • "He dare not do that, and you know it full well, Solan," contradicted th_lack. "Too great a power of life and death you hold over the people o_adabra for Salensus Oll ever to risk threatening you with death. Before eve_is minions could lay their hands upon you, you might seize this very leve_rom which you have just warned me and wipe out the entire city."
  • "And myself into the bargain," said Solan, with a shudder.
  • "But if you were to die, anyway, you would find the nerve to do it," replie_hurid.
  • "Yes," muttered Solan, "I have often thought upon that very thing. Well, Firs_orn, is your red princess worth the price I ask for my services, or will yo_o without her and see her in the arms of Salensus Oll tomorrow night?"
  • "Take your price, yellow man," replied Thurid, with an oath. "Half now and th_alance when you have fulfilled your contract."
  • With that the dator threw a well-filled money-pouch upon the table.
  • Solan opened the pouch and with trembling fingers counted its contents. Hi_eird eyes assumed a greedy expression, and his unkempt beard and mustach_witched with the muscles of his mouth and chin. It was quite evident from hi_ery mannerism that Thurid had keenly guessed the man's weakness—even th_lawlike, clutching movement of the fingers betokened the avariciousness o_he miser.
  • Having satisfied himself that the amount was correct, Solan replaced the mone_n the pouch and rose from the table.
  • "Now," he said, "are you quite sure that you know the way to your destination?
  • You must travel quickly to cover the ground to the cave and from thence beyon_he Great Power, all within a brief hour, for no more dare I spare you."
  • "Let me repeat it to you," said Thurid, "that you may see if I be letter- perfect."
  • "Proceed," replied Solan.
  • "Through yonder door," he commenced, pointing to a door at the far end of th_partment, "I follow a corridor, passing three diverging corridors upon m_ight; then into the fourth right-hand corridor straight to where thre_orridors meet; here again I follow to the right, hugging the left wal_losely to avoid the pit.
  • "At the end of this corridor I shall come to a spiral runway, which I mus_ollow down instead of up; after that the way is along but a single branchles_orridor. Am I right?"
  • "Quite right, Dator," answered Solan; "and now begone. Already have yo_empted fate too long within this forbidden place."
  • "Tonight, or tomorrow, then, you may expect the signal," said Thurid, risin_o go.
  • "Tonight, or tomorrow," repeated Solan, and as the door closed behind hi_uest the old man continued to mutter as he turned back to the table, where h_gain dumped the contents of the money-pouch, running his fingers through th_eap of shining metal; piling the coins into little towers; counting, recounting, and fondling the wealth the while he muttered on and on in _rooning undertone.
  • Presently his fingers ceased their play; his eyes popped wider than ever a_hey fastened upon the door through which Thurid had disappeared. The croo_hanged to a querulous muttering, and finally to an ugly growl.
  • Then the old man rose from the table, shaking his fist at the closed door. No_e raised his voice, and his words came distinctly.
  • "Fool!" he muttered. "Think you that for your happiness Solan will give up hi_ife? If you escaped, Salensus Oll would know that only through my connivanc_ould you have succeeded. Then would he send for me. What would you have m_o? Reduce the city and myself to ashes? No, fool, there is a better way—_etter way for Solan to keep thy money and be revenged upon Salensus Oll."
  • He laughed in a nasty, cackling note.
  • "Poor fool! You may throw the great switch that will give you the freedom o_he air of Okar, and then, in fatuous security, go on with thy red princess t_he freedom of—death. When you have passed beyond this chamber in your flight, what can prevent Solan replacing the switch as it was before your vile han_ouched it? Nothing; and then the Guardian of the North will claim you an_our woman, and Salensus Oll, when he sees your dead bodies, will never drea_hat the hand of Solan had aught to do with the thing."
  • Then his voice dropped once more into mutterings that I could not translate, but I had heard enough to cause me to guess a great deal more, and I thanke_he kind Providence that had led me to this chamber at a time so filled wit_mportance to Dejah Thoris and myself as this.
  • But how to pass the old man now! The cord, almost invisible upon the floor, stretched straight across the apartment to a door upon the far side.
  • There was no other way of which I knew, nor could I afford to ignore th_dvice to "follow the rope." I must cross this room, but however I shoul_ccomplish it undetected with that old man in the very center of it baffle_e.
  • Of course I might have sprung in upon him and with my bare hands silenced hi_orever, but I had heard enough to convince me that with him alive th_nowledge that I had gained might serve me at some future moment, while shoul_ kill him and another be stationed in his place Thurid would not come hithe_ith Dejah Thoris, as was quite evidently his intention.
  • As I stood in the dark shadow of the tunnel's end racking my brain for _easible plan the while I watched, catlike, the old man's every move, he too_p the money-pouch and crossed to one end of the apartment, where, bending t_is knees, he fumbled with a panel in the wall.
  • Instantly I guessed that here was the hiding place in which he hoarded hi_ealth, and while he bent there, his back toward me, I entered the chambe_pon tiptoe, and with the utmost stealth essayed to reach the opposite sid_efore he should complete his task and turn again toward the room's center.
  • Scarcely thirty steps, all told, must I take, and yet it seemed to m_verwrought imagination that that farther wall was miles away; but at last _eached it, nor once had I taken my eyes from the back of the old miser'_ead.
  • He did not turn until my hand was upon the button that controlled the doo_hrough which my way led, and then he turned away from me as I passed throug_nd gently closed the door.
  • For an instant I paused, my ear close to the panel, to learn if he ha_uspected aught, but as no sound of pursuit came from within I wheeled an_ade my way along the new corridor, following the rope, which I coiled an_rought with me as I advanced.
  • But a short distance farther on I came to the rope's end at a point where fiv_orridors met. What was I to do? Which way should I turn? I was nonplused.
  • A careful examination of the end of the rope revealed the fact that it ha_een cleanly cut with some sharp instrument. This fact and the words that ha_autioned me that danger lay beyond the KNOTS convinced me that the rope ha_een severed since my friend had placed it as my guide, for I had but passed _ingle knot, whereas there had evidently been two or more in the entire lengt_f the cord.
  • Now, indeed, was I in a pretty fix, for neither did I know which avenue t_ollow nor when danger lay directly in my path; but there was nothing else t_e done than follow one of the corridors, for I could gain nothing b_emaining where I was.
  • So I chose the central opening, and passed on into its gloomy depths with _rayer upon my lips.
  • The floor of the tunnel rose rapidly as I advanced, and a moment later the wa_ame to an abrupt end before a heavy door.
  • I could hear nothing beyond, and, with my accustomed rashness, pushed th_ortal wide to step into a room filled with yellow warriors.
  • The first to see me opened his eyes wide in astonishment, and at the sam_nstant I felt the tingling sensation in my finger that denoted the presenc_f a friend of the ring.
  • Then others saw me, and there was a concerted rush to lay hands upon me, fo_hese were all members of the palace guard—men familiar with my face.
  • The first to reach me was the wearer of the mate to my strange ring, and as h_ame close he whispered: "Surrender to me!" then in a loud voice shouted: "Yo_re my prisoner, white man," and menaced me with his two weapons.
  • And so John Carter, Prince of Helium, meekly surrendered to a singl_ntagonist. The others now swarmed about us, asking many questions, but _ould not talk to them, and finally my captor announced that he would lead m_ack to my cell.
  • An officer ordered several other warriors to accompany him, and a moment late_e were retracing the way I had just come. My friend walked close beside me, asking many silly questions about the country from which I had come, unti_inally his fellows paid no further attention to him or his gabbling.
  • Gradually, as he spoke, he lowered his voice, so that presently he was able t_onverse with me in a low tone without attracting attention. His ruse was _lever one, and showed that Talu had not misjudged the man's fitness for th_angerous duty upon which he was detailed.
  • When he had fully assured himself that the other guardsmen were not listening, he asked me why I had not followed the rope, and when I told him that it ha_nded at the five corridors he said that it must have been cut by someone i_eed of a piece of rope, for he was sure that "the stupid Kadabrans woul_ever have guessed its purpose."
  • Before we had reached the spot from which the five corridors diverge m_arentinian friend had managed to drop to the rear of the little column wit_e, and when we came in sight of the branching ways he whispered:
  • "Run up the first upon the right. It leads to the watchtower upon the sout_all. I will direct the pursuit up the next corridor," and with that he gav_e a great shove into the dark mouth of the tunnel, at the same time cryin_ut in simulated pain and alarm as he threw himself upon the floor as though _ad felled him with a blow.
  • From behind the voices of the excited guardsmen came reverberating along th_orridor, suddenly growing fainter as Talu's spy led them up the wron_assageway in fancied pursuit.
  • As I ran for my life through the dark galleries beneath the palace of Salensu_ll I must indeed have presented a remarkable appearance had there been any t_ote it, for though death loomed large about me, my face was split by a broa_rin as I thought of the resourcefulness of the nameless hero of Marentina t_hom I owed my life.
  • Of such stuff are the men of my beloved Helium, and when I meet another o_heir kind, of whatever race or color, my heart goes out to him as it did no_o my new friend who had risked his life for me simply because I wore the mat_o the ring his ruler had put upon his finger.
  • The corridor along which I ran led almost straight for a considerabl_istance, terminating at the foot of a spiral runway, up which I proceeded t_merge presently into a circular chamber upon the first floor of a tower.
  • In this apartment a dozen red slaves were employed polishing or repairing th_eapons of the yellow men. The walls of the room were lined with racks i_hich were hundreds of straight and hooked swords, javelins, and daggers. I_as evidently an armory. There were but three warriors guarding the workers.
  • My eyes took in the entire scene at a glance. Here were weapons in plenty!
  • Here were sinewy red warriors to wield them!
  • And here now was John Carter, Prince of Helium, in need both of weapons an_arriors!
  • As I stepped into the apartment, guards and prisoners saw me simultaneously.
  • Close to the entrance where I stood was a rack of straight swords, and as m_and closed upon the hilt of one of them my eyes fell upon the faces of two o_he prisoners who worked side by side.
  • One of the guards started toward me. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What do yo_ere?"
  • "I come for Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, and his son, Mors Kajak," I cried, pointing to the two red prisoners, who had now sprung to their feet, wide-eye_n astonished recognition.
  • "Rise, red men! Before we die let us leave a memorial in the palace of Okar'_yrant that will stand forever in the annals of Kadabra to the honor and glor_f Helium," for I had seen that all the prisoners there were men of Tardo_ors's navy.
  • Then the first guardsman was upon me and the fight was on, but scarce did w_ngage ere, to my horror, I saw that the red slaves were shackled to th_loor.