Presently I felt a soft hand upon my arm, and then that same sweet voice that I had heard before said, “It is Rojas.”
“I am glad that you came,” I said. “I wished an opportunity to thank you for the testimony you gave in my behalf before Ptantus today.”
“I’m afraid it didn’t do you much good,” she replied; “Ptantus doesn’t like me.”
“Why should he dislike you?” I asked.
“Pnoxus wanted me as his mate and I refused him; so, though Ptantus doesn’t like Pnoxus, his pride was hurt; and he has been venting his spleen on my family ever since.” She moved closer to me, I could feel the warmth of her arm against mine as she leaned against me. “Dotar Sojat,” she said, “I wish that you were an Invak so that you might remain here forever in safety.”
“That is very sweet of you, Rojas,” I said, “but I am afraid that Fate has ordained it otherwise.”
The soft arm stole up around my shoulders. The delicate perfume which had first announced her presence to me that afternoon, filled my nostrils and I could feel her warm breath upon my cheek. “Would you like to stay here, Dotar Sojat,” she paused, “—with me?”
The situation was becoming embarrassing. Even Ptor Fak was embarrassed and there were no soft invisible arms about his neck. I knew that he was embarrassed because he had moved away from us the full length of his chain. Of course he couldn’t see Rojas any more than I could but he must have heard her words; and, being a gentleman, he had removed himself as far as possible; and now he sat there with his back toward us. Being made love to by a beautiful girl in a moonlit garden may be romantic, but if the girl is wholly invisible it is like being made love to by a ghost; though I can assure you that Rojas didn’t feel like a ghost at all.
“You have not answered me, Dotar Sojat,” she said.
I have never loved but one woman—my incomparable Dejah Thoris; nor do I, like some men, run around pretending love for other women. So, as you say in America, I was on the spot. They say that all is fair in love and war; and as far as I was concerned I, personally, was definitely at war with Invak. Here was an enemy girl whose loyalty I could win or whose bitter hatred I could incur by my reply.
Had I had only myself to consider I should not have hesitated; but the fate of Llana of Gathol outweighted all other considerations, and so I temporized.
“No matter how much I should like to be with you always, Rojas,” I said, “I know that is impossible. I shall be here only subject to the whims of your jeddak and then death will separate us forever.”
“Oh, no, Dotar Sojat,” she cried, drawing my cheek close to hers, “you must not die—for I love you.”
“But Rojas,” I expostulated, “how can you love a man whom you have known for only a few hours and seen but for a few minutes?”
“I knew that I loved you the moment that I set eyes upon you,” she replied, “and I’ve seen you for a great many more than a few minutes. I have been almost constantly in the courtyard since I first saw you, watching you. I know every changing expression of your face. I have seen the light of anger, and of humor, and of friendship in your eyes. Had I known you all my life I could not know you better. Kiss me, Dotar Sojat,” she concluded. And, then I did something for which I shall probably always be ashamed. I took Rojas in my arms and kissed her.
Did you ever hold a ghost in your arms and kiss her? It humiliates me to admit that it was not an unpleasant experience. But Rojas clung to me so tightly and for so long that I was covered with confusion and embarrassment.
“Oh, that we could be always thus,” sighed Rojas.
Personally I thought that however pleasant, it might be a little inconvenient.
However, I said, “Perhaps you will come often again, Rojas, before I die.”
“Oh, don’t speak of death,” she cried.
“But you know yourself that Ptantus will have me killed—unless I escape.”
“Escape!” She scarcely breathed the word.
“But I suppose there will be no escape for me,” I added, and I tried not to sound too hopeful.
“Escape,” she said again, “Escape! ah if I could but go with you.”
“Why not?” I asked. I had gone this far and I felt that I might as well go all the way if by so doing I could release Llana of Gathol from captivity.
“Yes, why not?” repeated Rojas, “but how?”
“If I could become invisible,” I suggested.
She thought that over for a moment and then said, “It would be treason. It would mean death, a horrible death, were I apprehended.”
“I couldn’t ask that of you,” I said, and I felt like a hypocrite for that I knew that I could ask it of her if I thought that she would do it. I would willingly have sacrificed the life of every person in Invak, including my own, if thereby I could have liberated Llana of Gathol. I was desperate, and when a man is desperate he will resort to any means to win his point.
“I am most unhappy here,” said Rojas, in a quite natural and human attempt at self-justification. “Of course, if we were successful,” continued Rojas, “it wouldn’t make any difference who knew what I had done because they could never find us again. We would both be invisible, and together we could make our way to your country.” She was planning it all out splendidly.
“Do you know where the flier is that brought the girl prisoner?” I asked.
“Yes, it was landed on the roof of the city.”
“That will simplify matters greatly,” I said. “If we all become invisible we can reach it and escape with ease.”
“What do you mean ’all’?” she demanded.
“Why I want to take Ptor Fak with me,” I said, “and Llana of Gathol who was captured the same time I was.”
Rojas froze instantly and her arms dropped from about me. “Not the girl,” she said.
“But, Rojas, I must save her,” I insisted. There was no reply. I waited a moment and then I said, “Rojas!” but she did not answer, and a moment later I saw her slim back materialize in the entrance to one of the streets opposite me. A slim back surmounted by a defiantly held head. That back radiated feminine fury.