A Fighting Man of Mars
Chapter 17: I Find a Princess

Copyright© 2012 by Edgar Rice Burroughs

It would be as unreasonable to aver that I fully visualized the outcome of my act as I leaped out into space with nothing visible between me and the flagstones of the courtyard forty feet below as it would be to assume that I acted solely upon unreasoning impulse. There are emergencies in which the mind functions with inconceivable celerity. Perceptions are received, judgments arrived at and reason operates to a definite conclusion all so swiftly that the three acts appear simultaneous. Thus must have been the process in this instance.

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.

 
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