Perry shut off the gas. There were tears on the old man’s cheeks as he stood there fondling the great thing with his eyes.
“It is a success!” he murmured. “The very first time it is a success.”
Dian the Beautiful came and slipped her arm through his. “It is wonderful, Abner,” she said; “but what is it for?”
“It is a balloon, my dear,” explained Perry. “It will take people up into the air.”
“What for?” asked Dian the Beautiful.
Perry cleared his throat. “Well, my dear, for many reasons.”
“Yes?” inquired Dian. “What, for instance?”
“Come, come,” said Perry; “you wouldn’t understand.”
“How could they get down again?” she asked.
“You see that big rope? It is attached to the bottom of the basket. The other end of the rope passes around the drum of this windlass we have built. After the balloon has ascended as high as we wish it to we turn the windlass and pull it down.”
“Why would anyone wish to go up there?” asked Dian. “There is nothing up there but air and we have plenty of air down here.”
“Just think of all the country you could see from way up there,” said Perry. “You could see all the way to the Lural Az. With my binoculars, you might see all the way to Amoz.”
“Could I see David, if he were coming back?”
“You could see his ships on the Lural Az a long way off,” said Perry, “and you could see a large body of marching men almost as far as Greenwich.”
“I shall go up in your balloon, Perry,” said Dian the Beautiful. “Go and get your bi-bi-whatever you called them, that I may look through them and see if David is returning. I have slept many times and we have had no word from him since his messenger came summoning Ghak.”
“I think that we had better test it first,” said Perry. “There might be something wrong with it. There have been isolated instances where some of my inventions have not functioned entirely satisfactorily upon their initial trial.”
“Yes,” agreed Dian the Beautiful.
“I shall put a bag of earth of more than twice your weight in the basket, send it up, and haul it down. That should prove an entirely adequate test.”
“Yes,” said Dian, “and please hurry.”
“You are sure you are not afraid to go up?” asked Perry.
“When was a woman of Sari ever afraid?” demanded Dian.
Hodon retraced his steps to the summit of the cliff above Kali. He had a plan, but it all depended upon Fash’s imprisoning David Innes in the cave on the upper ledge of the village.
Just before he reached the summit of the cliff, he stopped and told O-aa to remain hidden among some bushes. “And do not talk!” he commanded.
“Why?” asked O-aa. “Who are you to tell me that I cannot talk?”
“Never mind about that,” said Hodon, “and don’t start telling me about any of your relations. They make me sick, just remember this: if you talk, one of the warriors on guard may hear you and then there will be an investigation. And remember one more thing: if you talk before I come back here, I’ll cut your throat. Can you remember that?”
“Wait until my brother—”
“Shut up!” snapped Hodon and walked away toward the top of the cliff.
As he neared it he got down on his belly and crawled. He wormed his way forward like an Apache Indian; and like an Apache Indian he carried a little bush in one hand. When he was quite close to the cliff edge, he held the little bush in front of his face and advanced but an inch at a time. At last he could peer over the edge and down upon the village of Kali. Once in position he did not move. He waited, waited with the infinite patience of primitive man.
He thought of David Innes, for whom he would have gladly laid down his life. He thought of O-aa and he smiled. She had spirit and the Sarians liked women with spirit. Also she was undeniably beautiful. The fact that she knew it detracted nothing from her charm. She would have been a fool if she hadn’t known it, and a hypocrite if she had pretended that she did not know that she was beautiful. It was true that she talked too much, but a talkative woman was better than a sullen one.
Hodon thought that O-aa might be very desirable but he knew that she was not for him—she had too frankly emphasized her dislike of him. However one sometimes took a mate against her will. He would give the matter thought. One trouble with that was that David Innes did not approve of the old fashioned method of knocking a lady over the head with a club and dragging her off to one’s cave. He had made very strict laws on the subject. Now no man could take a mate without the girl’s consent.
As these thoughts were passing through his mind he saw warriors approaching the village. They kept coming into view from an opening in the forest. Yes, it was the Suvians with their prisoners. He saw David Innes walking with his head up, just as he always walked in paths of peace or paths of war. No one ever saw David Innes’ chin on his chest. Hodon was very proud of him.
There was a brief halt at the foot of the cliff, and then some of the prisoners were herded toward the cliff and up the ladders. Would David Innes be one of these? So much depended on it that Hodon felt his heart beating a little faster.
All the prisoners could not be accommodated in the prison cave on the upper ledge. Some of them would have to be confined elsewhere or destroyed. Hodon was sure that no member of The Imperial Guard would accept Fash’s offer and prove a traitor to the Empire.
Yes! At last here came David Innes! The guards were particularly cruel to him. They prodded him with spears as he climbed the rickety ladders. They had removed the bonds from his wrists, but they had seen that he was at a safe distance from Fash before they did so.
Up and up he climbed. At last he was on the topmost ladder. Inwardly, Hodon whooped for joy. Now there was a chance. Of course his plan was full of bugs, but there was one chance in a hundred that it might succeed—one wild chance.
Just one little hour of night would have simplified things greatly but Hodon knew nothing of night. From the day of his birth he had known only one long, endless day, with the stationary sun hanging perpetually at zenith. Whatever he did now, as always, would have to be done in broad daylight among a people who had no set hours for sleeping; so that at least a half of them could be depended upon to be awake and watchful at all times.
He watched until he saw David Innes enter the prison cave; then he crawled back to O-aa. She was fast asleep! How lovely she looked. Her slim, brown body was almost naked, revealing the perfection of its contours. Hodon knelt beside her. For a moment he forgot David Innes, duty, honor. He seized O-aa and lifted her in his arms. He pressed his lips to hers. She awakened with a start. With the speed and viciousness of a cat, she struck—she struck him once across the mouth with her hand, and then her dagger sprang from its sheath.
Hodon leaped quickly back, but not quite quickly enough; the basalt blade ripped a six-inch slash in his chest. Hodon grinned.
“Well done,” he said. “Some day you are going to be my mate, and I shall be very proud of you.”
“I would as soon mate with a jalok,” she said.
“You will mate with me of your own free will,” said Hodon, “and now come and help me.”