Lost on Venus

Chapter 21 - Flight

Edgar Rice Burroughs

I WAS not permitted to accompany Duare to her examination. She was placed in charge of the same woman who had guarded Nalte at the time of her examination, Hara Es.

To pass the hours until the result should be made known, I went to the hangar to inspect my plane. It was in perfect condition. The motor hummed almost noiselessly. I could not, under ordinary circumstances, have withstood the urge to have the ship wheeled out onto the plain before the city for a trial flight; but my mind was so distraught with apprehension concerning the fate of Duare that I had no heart for anything.

I spent an hour alone in the hangar. None of my assistants were there, they having all returned to their ordinary duties after the completion of the plane. Then I returned to the house that I shared with Ero Shan.

He was not there. I tried to read, but I could not concentrate long enough to know what I was reading about. My eyes followed the strange Amtorian characters, but my thoughts were with Duare. At last I gave it up and walked in the garden. An unreasoning terror enveloped me like a shroud, numbing my faculties.

How long I walked I do not know, but at last my sad reveries were interrupted by the approach of footsteps through the house. I knew that Ero Shan must be coming to the garden. I stood waiting, looking toward the doorway through which he must come; and the instant that I saw him my heart turned cold. I read the confirmation of my worst fears in the expression on his face.

He came and laid a hand upon my shoulder. “I have bad news for you, my friend,” he said.

“I know,” I replied; “I read it in your eyes. They have ordered her destroyed?”

“It is a miscarriage of justice,” he said, “but there is no appeal. We must accept the decision as the board’s honest conviction that they are thus serving the best interests of the city.”

“Is there nothing I can do?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he replied.

“Won’t they let me take her away from Havatoo?”

“No; they are so afraid of the contaminating influence of Skor and his creatures that they will never permit one to live that falls into their hands.”

“But she is not one of Skor’s creatures!” I insisted.

“I am quite sure that they had their doubts, but the benefit of the doubt is given to the city and not to the accused. There is nothing more to be done.”

“Do you think they would let me see her?” I asked.

“It is possible,” he replied. “For some reason she is not to be destroyed until to-morrow.”

“Will you try to arrange it for me, Ero Shan?”

“Certainly,” he replied. “Wait here, and I will see what I can do.”

I have never spent such long and bitter hours as those while I was awaiting the return of Ero Shan. Never before had I felt so helpless and hopeless in the face of an emergency. Had these been ordinary men with whom I had to deal, I might have seen somewhere a ray of hope, but there was none here. Their uprightness precluded the possibility that I might influence even a minor guard by bribery; they could not be moved by an appeal to sentiment; the cold, hard logic of their reasoning left their minds impregnable fortresses of conviction that it was useless to assail.

I have said that I was hopeless, but that was not entirely true. Upon what my hope fed I do not know, but it seemed so impossible to believe that Duare was to be destroyed that my mind must in some slight measure have been stunned.

It was dark before Ero Shan returned. I could read neither hope nor despair in his expression as he entered the room where I had finally gone to await him. He appeared very serious and very tired.

“Well?” I demanded. “What is the verdict?”

“I had a hard time of it,” he said. “I had to go all the way up to the Sanjong, but at last I got permission for you to visit her.”

“Where is she? When may I see her?”

“I will take you to her now,” he replied.

After we entered his car I asked him how he had accomplished it.

“I finally took Nalte with me,” he replied. “She knew more about you and all that you and Duare have passed through together than any one else in Havatoo. For a while I almost thought that she was going to persuade the Sanjong to reverse the verdict against Duare, and it was solely through her appeal that they at last gave their consent to this last meeting.

“I learned a great deal about you and Duare from Nalte, much more than you have ever told me; and I learned something else.”

“What was that?” I asked as he paused.

“I learned that I love Nalte,” he replied.

“And did you learn that she loves you?”

“Yes. Were it not for your unhappiness I should be quite the happiest man in Havatoo tonight. But what made you think that Nalte loved me?”

“She told me so.”

“And you did not tell me?” he asked reproachfully.

“I could not,” I replied, “Until after I knew that you loved her.”

“I suppose not. She told me that you were planning on taking her back to Andoo; but now that won’t be necessary—she seems quite content to remain in Havatoo.”

We had been driving along the Korgan Lat toward the stadium, and now Ero Shan turned into a side street and stopped before a small house.

“Here we are,” he said. “This is the house of Hara Es, in whose charge Duare has been placed. Hara Es is expecting you. I shall wait out here. You are to be allowed to remain with Duare for five vir.”

Five vir are a little over twenty minutes of earth time. It seemed all too short, but it was better than nothing. I went to the door of the house, and in answer to my summons Hara Es admitted me.

“I have been expecting you,” she sails “Come with me.”

She led me up to the second floor and unlocking a door, pushed it open. “Go in,” she directed. “In five vir I shall come for you.”

As I entered the room Duare rose from a couch and faced me. Hara Es dosed the door and locked it. I heard her footsteps as she descended the stairs. We were alone, Duare and I, for the first time in what seemed an eternity to me.

“Why did you come here?” asked Duare in a tired voice.

“You ask me that!” I exclaimed. “You know why I came.”

She shook her head. “You cannot do anything for me; no one can. I supposed you would come if you could help me, but as you can’t I do not know why you came.”

“If for no other reason, because I love you. Is not that reason enough?”

“Do not speak to me of love,” she said, looking at me queerly.

I determined not to make her last moments more unhappy by pressing unwelcome attention upon her. I sought to cheer her, but she said that she was not unhappy.”

“I am not afraid to die, Carson Napier,” she said. “As it seems impossible that, living, I should ever return to Vepaja, I prefer to die. I am not happy. I can never be happy.

“Why could you never be happy?” I demanded.

“That is my secret; I shall take it to the grave with me. Let us not speak of it any more.”

“I don’t wish you to die, Duare. You must not die!” I exclaimed .

“I know that you feel that way, Carson, but what are we to do about it?”

“There must be something we can do. How many are there in this house besides Hara Es and yourself?”

“There is no one.”

Suddenly a mad hope possessed me. I searched the room with my eyes. It was bare of all except absolute necessities. I saw nothing with which I might carry out my plan. Time was flying. Hara Es would soon return. My eyes fell upon the saronglike scarf that Duare wore, the common outer garment of Amtorian women.

“Let me take this,” I said, stepping to her side.

“What for?” she demanded.

“Never mind. Do as I say!” We have no time to argue! Duare had long since learned to submerge her pride when my tone told her that an emergency confronted us and to obey me promptly. She did so now. Quickly she unwound the scarf from about her and handed it to me.

“Here it is,” she said. “What are you going to do with it?”

“Wait and see. Stand over there on the right side of the room. Here comes Hara Es now; I hear her on the stairs.”

I stepped quickly to one side of the door so that I should be behind it and hidden from Hara Es as she entered. Then I waited. More than my own life lay in the balance, yet I was not nervous. My heart beat as quietly as though I were contemplating nothing more exciting than a pleasant social visit.

I heard Hara Es stop before the door. I heard the key turn in the lock. Then the door swung open and Hara Es stepped into the room. As she did so I seized her by the throat from behind and pushed the door shut with my foot.

“Don’t make a sound,” I warned, “or I shall have to kill you.”

She did not lose her poise for an instant. “You are very foolish,” she said. “This will not save Duare, and it will mean your death. You cannot escape from Havatoo.”

I made no reply, but worked quickly and in silence. I bound her securely with the scarf and then gagged her. When I had finished I raised her from the floor and placed her on the couch.

“I am sorry, Hara Es, for what I was compelled to do. I am going now to get rid of Ero Shan. He will know nothing of what I have done. Please be sure to inform the Sanjong that Ero Shan is in no way responsible for what has happened—or what is going to happen. I shall leave you here until I can get away from Ero Shan without arousing his suspicions.

“In the meantime, Duare, watch Hara Es closely until I return. See that she does not loosen her bonds.”

I stooped and picked the key from the floor where Hara Es had dropped it; then I quit the room, locking the door after me. A moment later I was in the car with Ero Shan.

“Let’s get home as quickly as possible,” I said; then I lapsed into silence, a silence which Ero Shan, respecting what he thought to be my sorrow, did not break.

He drove rapidly, but it seemed an eternity before he steered the car into the garage at the house. There being no thieves in Havatoo, locks are unnecessary; so our garage doors stood wide open as they always were except in inclement weather. My car, facing toward the street, stood there.

“You have eaten scarcely anything all day,” said Ero Shan as we entered the house; “suppose we have something now.”

“No, thanks,” I replied. “I am going to my room. I could not eat now.”

He laid a hand upon my arm and pressed it gently, but he did not say anything; then he turned and left me. A wonderful friend was Ero Shan. I hated to deceive him, but I would have deceived any one to save Duare.

I went to my room, but only long enough to procure weapons; then I returned to the garage. As I stepped into my car I offered a prayer of thanks that the motors of Havatoo are silent. Like a wraith the car slipped out of the garage into the night, and as I passed the house I whispered a silent good-by to Ero Shan.

Approaching the house of Hara Es I felt the first qualm of nervousness that had assailed me during this adventure, but the house seemed quite deserted as I entered it and ran up the stairs to the second floor.

Unlocking the door of the room in which I had left Duare and Hara Es I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw them both there. I crossed quickly to the couch and examined Hara Es’s bonds. They appeared quite secure.

“Come!” I said to Duare. “We have no time to waste.”

She followed me out of the room. I locked the door on Hara Es, found another sarong for Duare in a room on the first floor, and a moment later Duare and I were in my car.

“Where are we going?” she asked. “We cannot hide in Havatoo. They will find us.”

“We are going to leave Havatoo forever,” I replied, and just then I saw a car pass us and draw up in front of the house we had just left. Two men were in it; one of them jumped out and ran to the door; then I opened the throttle. I had seen enough to turn me cold with apprehension.

Duare had seen, too. “Now they will discover everything,” she said, “and you will be killed. I knew that it would end in disaster. Oh, why didn’t you let me die alone? I want to die.”

“But I won’t let you!”

She said nothing more, and we sped through the now almost deserted streets of Havatoo toward the Kantum Lat and the Gate of the Physicists.

We had gone about two miles of the three that we must cover before we reached our destination when I heard an ominous sound such as I had never before heard in Havatoo. It sounded like the wailing of sirens such as are used on police cars in the large cities of America. Instantly I knew that it was an alarm, and I guessed that the man who had entered the house of Hara Es had discovered her and that our escape was known.

Closer and closer came the sounds of the wailing sirens as I drew up before the hangar where my plane stood; they seemed to be converging upon us from all directions. I was not surprised that they should have guessed where they would find us, for it would have been obvious to even duller minds than those of Havatoo that here lay my only chance to escape.

Fairly dragging Duare with me, I leaped from the car and ran into the hangar. The great doors, operated by mechanical means, rolled open at the touch of a button. I lifted Duare into the cockpit. She asked no questions; there was no time for questions.

Then I took my place at her side. I had designed the plane for training purposes; and it had two seats, each accommodating two people. I started the motor—and such a motor! Silent, vibrationless, and it required no warming up.

I taxied out into the Kantum Lat. The sirens were very close now. I saw the lights of cars bearing down upon us. As I started toward the Gate of the Physicists I heard the staccato hum of Amtorian rifles behind us. They were firing at us!

I nosed up; the wheels left the ground; the great gate loomed directly ahead. Up! Faster! Faster! I held my breath. Would we make it? Responding perfectly, the light ship climbed almost vertically in the last few seconds; she sped over the top of the lofty gate with only inches to spare. We were safe!

Far below, the lights of Havatoo lay behind us as I turned the ship’s nose toward the shimmering ribbon that was the River of Death—the River of Life to us—that was to guide us down to that unknown sea where, I was confident, we would find Vepaja.

Duare had not spoken. I felt her arm against mine trembling. I reached over and laid a hand upon it. “Why are you trembling?” I asked. “You are quite safe now.”

“What is this thing we are in?” she asked. “Why does it not fall to the ground and kill us? What keeps it up?”

I explained as best I could, telling her that there was no danger that it would fall; and then she drew a deep, long sigh of relief.

“If you say that we are safe; then I am afraid no longer,” she said. “But tell me, why are you making this sacrifice for me?”

“What sacrifice?” I asked.

“You can never return to Havatoo now; they would kill you.”

“I do not want to return to Havatoo if you cannot live there in safety,” I replied.

“But what of Nalte?” she asked. “You love one another, and now you can never see her again.”

“I do not love Nalte, nor does she love me. I love only you, Duare; and Nalte and Ero Shan love one another. We are on our way to Vepaja; I would rather take my chances of winning you there than live a Sanjong in Havatoo without you.”

She sat in silence for a long time; then, presently, she turned and looked up into my face. “Carson!” she said in a low voice.

Yes, Duare, what is it?”

“I love you!”

I could not believe that I had heard right. “But, Duare, you are the daughter of a jong of Vepaja!” I exclaimed.

“That I have known always,” she said, “but I have just learned that above all things else I am a woman.”

I took her in my arms then. I could have held her thus forever, as our marvelous plane raced onwards toward Vepaja and home.


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