I knew where the narrow walkway upon the upper deck of the Jhama must lie in the seemingly empty space below me, for I had jumped almost the instant that the hatch had closed. Of course I know now, and I knew then, that it would have been a dangerous feat and difficult of achievement even had I been able to see the Jhama below me; yet as I look back upon it now there was nothing else that I could have done. It was my one, my last chance to save Tavia from a fate worse than death—it was perhaps my last opportunity ever to see her again. As I jumped then I should jump again under like conditions even though I knew that I should miss the Jhama, for now as then I know that I should rather die than lose Tavia; although then I did not know why, while now I do.
But I did not miss. I landed squarely upon my feet upon the narrow walkway. The impact of my weight upon the upper deck of the craft must have been noticeable to Tul Axtar, for I could feel the Jhama drop a little beneath me. Doubtless he wondered what had happened, but I do not think that he guessed the truth. However, he did not raise the hatch as I hoped he would, but instead he must have leaped to the controls at once for almost immediately the Jhama rose swiftly at an acute angle, which made it difficult for me to cling to her since her upper deck was not equipped with harness rings. By grasping the forward edge of the turret, however, I managed to hold on.
As Tul Axtar gained sufficient altitude and straightened out upon his course he opened the throttle wide so that the wind rushing at me at terrific velocity seemed momentarily upon the point of carrying me from my precarious hold and hurtling me to the ground far below. Fortunately I am a strong man—none other could have survived that ordeal—yet how utterly helpless I was.
Had Tul Axtar guessed the truth he could have raised the after hatch and had me at his mercy, for though my pistol hung at my side I could not have released either hand to use it, but doubtless Tul Axtar did not know, or if he did he hoped that the high speed of the ship would dislodge whoever or whatever it might have been that he felt drop upon it.
I had hung there but a short time before I realized that eventually my hold must weaken and be torn loose. Something must be done to rectify my position. Tavia must be saved and because I alone could save her, I must not die.
Straining every thew I dragged myself further forward until I lay with my chest upon the turret. Slowly, inch by inch, I wormed myself forward. The tubular sheeting of the periscope was just in front of me. If I could but reach that with one hand I might hope to attain greater safety. The wind was buffeting me, seeking to tear me away. I sought a better hold with my left forearm about the turret and then I reached quickly forward with my right hand and my fingers closed about the sheathing.
After that it was not difficult to stretch a part of my harness about the front of the turret. Now I found that I could have one hand free, but until the ship stopped I could not hope to accomplish anything more.
What was transpiring beneath me? Could Tavia be safe even for a brief time in the power of Tul Axtar? The thought drove me frantic. The Jhama must be stopped, and then an inspiration came to me.
With my free hand I unsnapped my pocket pouch from my harness and drawing myself still further forward, I managed to place the opened pouch over the eye of the periscope.
Immediately Tul Axtar was blind; he could see nothing, nor was it long before the reaction that I had expected and hoped for came—the Jhama slowed down and finally came to a stop.
I had been lying partially upon the forward hatch and now I drew myself away from and in front of it. I hoped that it would be the forward hatch that he would open. It was the closer to him. I waited, and then glancing forward I saw that he was opening the ports. In this way he could see to navigate the ship and my plan was blocked.
I was disappointed, but I would not give up hope. Very quietly I tried the forward hatch, but it was locked upon the inside. Then I made my way swiftly and silently to the after hatch. If he should start the Jhama again at full speed now, doubtless I should be lost, but I felt that I was forced to risk the chance. Already the Jhama was in motion again as I laid my hand upon the hatch cover. This time I was neither silent nor gentle. I heaved vigorously and the hatch opened. Not an instant did I hesitate and as the Jhama leaped forward again at full speed, I dropped through the hatchway to the interior of the craft.
As I struck the deck Tul Axtar heard me and wheeling from the controls to face me, he recognized me. I think I never before beheld such an expression of mingled astonishment, hatred and fear as convulsed his features. At his feet lay Tavia, so quietly still that I thought her dead, and then Tul Axtar reached for his pistol and I for mine, but I had led a cleaner life than Tul Axtar had. My mind and muscles coordinate with greater celerity than can those of one who has wasted his fiber in dissipation.
Point blank I fired at his putrid heart and Tul Axtar, Jeddak and tyrant of Jahar, lunged forward upon the lower deck of the Jhama dead.
Instantly I sprang to Tavia’s side and turned her over. She had been bound and gagged and, for some unaccountable reason, blindfolded as well, but she was not dead. I almost sobbed for joy when I realized that. How my fingers seemed to fumble in their haste to free her; yet it was only a matter of seconds ere it was done and I was crushing her in my arms.
I know that my tears fell upon her upturned face as our lips were pressed together, but I am not ashamed of that, and Tavia wept too and clung to me and I could feel her dear body tremble. How terrified she must have been, and yet I know she had never shown it to Tul Axtar. It was the reaction—the mingling of relief and joy at the moment that the despair had been blackest.
In that instant, as our hearts beat together and she drew me closer to her, a great truth dawned upon me. What a stupid fool I had been! How could I ever have thought that the sentiment that I entertained for Sanoma Tora was love? How could I ever believe that my love for Tavia had been such a weak thing as friendship? I drew her closer, if such were possible.
“My princess,” I whispered.
Upon Barsoom those two words, spoken by man to maid, have a peculiar and unalterable significance, for no man speaks thus to any woman that he does not wish for wife.
“No, no,” sobbed Tavia, “Take me, I am yours; but I am only a slave girl. Tan Hadron of Hastor cannot mate with such.”
Even then she thought only of me and my happiness, and not of herself at all. How different she was from such as Sanoma Tora? I had risked my life to win a clod of dirt and I had found a priceless jewel.
I looked her in the eyes, those beautiful, fathomless wells of love and understanding. “I love you, Tavia,” I said. “Tell me that I may have the right to call you my princess.”
“Even though I be a slave?” she asked.
“Even though you were a thousand times less than a slave,” I told her.
She sighed and snuggled closer to me. “My chieftain,” she whispered in a low, low voice.
That, as far as I, Tan Hadron of Hastor, is concerned, is the end of the story. That instant marked the highest pinnacle to which I may ever hope to achieve, but there is more that may interest those who have come thus far with me upon adventures that have carried me half way around the southern hemisphere of Barsoom.
When Tavia and I could tear ourselves apart, which was not soon, I opened the lower hatch and let the corpse of Tul Axtar find its last resting place upon the barren ground below. Then we turned back toward Jhama, where we discovered that earlier in the morning Nur An had come to one of the roofs of the palace and been discovered by Phao.
When Nur An had learned that I had entered the palace just before dawn, he had become apprehensive and instituted a search for me. He had not known of the coming of Tul Axtar and believed that the Jeddak must have arrived after he had retired for the night; nor had he known how close Tavia had been, lying bound in the Jhama close beside the palace wall.
His search of the palace, however, had revealed the fact that Phor Tak was missing. He had summoned the slaves and a careful search had been made, but no sign of Phor Tak was visible.
It occurred to me then that I might solve the question as to the whereabouts of the old scientist. “Come with me,” I said to Nur An; “Perhaps I can find Phor Tak for you.”
I led him to the laboratory. “There is no use searching there,” he said, “we have looked in a hundred times today. A glance will reveal the fact that the laboratory is deserted.”
“Wait,” I said. “Let us not be in too much of a hurry. Come with me; perhaps yet I may disclose the whereabouts of Phor Tak.”
With a shrug he followed me as I entered the vast laboratory and walked toward the bench upon which a disintegrating rifle was mounted. Just back of the bench my foot struck something that I could not see, but that I had rather expected to find there, and stooping I felt a huddled form beneath a covering of soft cloth.
My fingers closed upon the invisible fabric and I drew it aside. There, before us on the floor, lay the dead body of Phor Tak, a bullet hole in the center of his breast.
“Name of Issus!” cried Nur An. “Who did this?”
“I,” I replied, and then I told him what had happened in the laboratory as the last night waned.
He looked around hurriedly. “Cover it up quickly,” he said. “The slaves must not know. They would destroy us. Let us get out of here quickly.”
I drew the cloak of invisibility over the body of Phor Tak again. “I have work here before I leave,” I said.
“What?” he demanded.
“Help me gather all of the disintegrating rays shells and rifles into one end of the room.”
“What are you going to do?” he demanded.
“I am going to save a world, Nur An,” I said.
Then he fell to and helped me and when they were all collected in a pile at the far end of the laboratory, I selected a single shell and returning to the rifle mounted upon the bench I inserted it in the chamber, closed the block and turned the muzzle of the weapon upon that frightful aggregation of death and disaster.
As I pressed the button all that remained in Jhama of Phor Tak’s dangerous invention disappeared in thin air, with the exception of the single rifle, for which there remained no ammunition. With it had gone his model of The Flying Death and with him the secret had been lost.
Nur An told me that the slaves were becoming suspicious of us and as there was no necessity of risking ourselves further, we embarked upon the flier that John Carter had given me, and, taking the Jhama in tow, set our course toward Helium.
We overtook the fleet shortly before it reached the Twin Cities of Greater Helium and Lesser Helium and upon the deck of John Carter’s flagship we received a welcome and a great ovation, and shortly thereafter there occurred one of the most remarkable and dramatic incidents that I have ever beheld. We were holding something of an informal reception upon the forward deck of the great battleship. Officers and nobles were pressing forward to be presented and numerous were the appreciative eyes that admired Tavia.
It was the turn of the Dwar, Kal Tavan, who had been a slave in the palace of Tor Hatan. As he came face to face with Tavia, I saw a look of surprise in his eyes.
“Your name is Tavia?” he repeated.
“Yes,” she said, “and yours is Tavan. They are similar.”
“I do not need to ask from what country you are,” he said. “You are Tavia of Tjanath.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“Because you are my daughter,” he replied. “Tavia is the name your mother gave you. You look like her. By that alone I should have known my daughter anywhere.”
Very gently he took her in his arms and I saw tears in his eyes, and hers too, as he pressed his lips against her forehead, and then he turned to me.
“They told me that the brave Tan Hadron of Hastor had chosen to mate with a slave girl,” he said; “but that is not true. Your princess is in truth a princess—the granddaughter of a jed. She might have been the daughter of a jed had I remained in Tjanath.”
How devious are the paths of fate! How strange and unexpected the destinations to which they lead. I had set out upon one of these paths with the intention of marrying Sanoma Tora at the end. Sanoma Tora had set out upon another in the hopes of marrying a Jeddak. At the end of her path, she had found only ignominy and disgrace. At the end of mine I had found a princess.