David went into the cave and slept, and when he awoke there was still no sign of Hodon. So David went out and made a kill himself. He ate many times and slept twice more, and still Hodon had not returned. Now David became worried, for he knew that Hodon would have returned had all been well with him. He determined to go and search for him, though he knew that it would be like searching for a needle in a hay stack.
He found Hodon’s almost obliterated tracks, and he came upon the carcass of the cave lion. The dagger wounds in the beast’s side and the spear wound in its breast told a graphic story. Then he discovered the prints of O-aa’s little sandals.
What he read when he came to the spot at which the two had been captured by the sabertooth men filled him with apprehension. He saw great splayed, manlike footprints, and the trail of the party leading away to the northeast. For the most part, the spoor of O-aa and Hodon was obliterated by that of their captors; but David Innes saw enough to know that a party of creatures unknown to him had captured O-aa and Hodon.
There was but one thing to do: he must follow. This he did until the trail entered the dark mouth of the volcanic tube. He went in a short distance, but he could neither see nor hear anything; he felt a strong wind sucking in past him toward the interior of the cave. He came out and examined the terrain. Above him lay the slope of an extinct volcano. He could see the rim of the crater sharply defined against the blue of the sky. Suddenly he had an inspiration, and he commenced the ascent of the mountain.
When Hodon and O-aa regained consciousness they were still lying where they had fallen. All around them rose the walls of a volcanic crater, the level floor of which was covered with verdure. In the center was a small lake of blue water. Rude shelters were dotted about.
They found themselves surrounded by sabertooth people-men, women, and children. There was much jabbering in the strange, monkey-like language of these hideous people. They snarled and growled at one another and occasionally one of them would try to grab either O-aa or Hodon with a long, prehensile tail. Three or four large males stood close to the captives, and every time one of their fellows tried to seize either of them, he would be set upon and chased away. It was apparent to Hodon that they were being guarded, but why?
After they regained consciousness, these guards jerked them to their feet and led them away toward one of the shacks—an open structure with a flimsy grass roof. Here a large male squatted on the ground, and beside him was the strangest looking human being either Hodon or O-aa had ever seen. He was a little, wizened old man with a white beard that almost concealed the rest of his features. He had no teeth, and his eyes were the eyes of a very old man.
“Well,” he said, looking them over, “you’re certainly in a fix. Back in Cape Cod, we’d say you was in a Hell of a fix; but we ain’t back in Cape Cod, and you never heard of Hell, unless this here place is it, which I sometimes believe; for doesn’t the Good Book tell us that people go down to Hell? or doesn’t it? Well, I dunno; but I came down to get to this here place, an’ I don’t believe Hell could be much worse.” He spoke in Pellucidarian with a Cape Cod accent. “Well,” he continued, taking a breath, “here you are. Do you know what’s goin’ to happen to you?”
“No,” said Hodon; “do you?”
“Well, they’ll probably fatten you up and eat you. That’s what they usually do. They might keep you a long time. They’re funny that way. You see they ain’t no such thing as time down here; so how’s a body to know how long it will be before you get fat or before they eat you? God only knows how long I been here. I had black hair and a good set o’ teeth when I come, but look at me now! Maybe they’ll keep you until your teeth fall out. I hope so, because I get danged lonesome for company down here. These here things aren’t very good company.”
“Why haven’t they I eaten you?” asked Hodon.
“Well, that there’s a long story. I’ll tell you all about it—if they don’t eat you too quick.”
The large sabertooth man sitting beside the old man now commenced to jabber at him, and the old man jabbered back in the same strange tongue; then he turned to Hodon.
“He wants to know where you come from and if there’s more like you real handy. He says that if you’ll guide his people to your village, he won’t have you killed right away.”
“Tell him I’ve got to rest first,” said Hodon. “Maybe I can think of a village where the people are all nice and fat.”
The old man turned and translated this to the sabertooth man, who replied at some length.
“He says that’s all right, and he’ll send some of his people with you right away.”
“Tell him I’ve got to rest first,” said Hodon.
After some further conversation between the sabertooth man and the old man, the latter said: “You can come with me now. I’m to look after you until you have rested.”
He got up, and Hodon and O-aa followed him to another shelter, which was much more substantially built than the others.
“This is my cabin,” said the old man. “Sit down and make yourselves at home. I built this myself. Got all the comforts of home!” The comforts of home were a bunk filled with dried grass, a table, and a bench.
“Tell me how you got here, and why they don’t eat you,” said Hodon.
“Well, the reason they don’t eat me, or rather the reason they didn’t eat me at first, was because I saved the life of that fellow you seen sitting beside me. He’s chief. I think about the only reason they don’t eat me now is because I’m too damned old and tough.
“Now, as to how I got here, I come from a place you never even heard of in a world you never heard of. You don’t know it, but you’re living in the center of a round ball; and on the outside is another world, entirely different from this one. Well, I come from that other world on the outside.
“I was a seafarin’ man up there. Used to go whalin’ up around the Arctic. Last time I went was an awful open summer up there. We went farther north than we’d ever been before, and no ice—just a great open polar sea as far as the eye could reach.
“Well, everything was lovely till we run into the worst dod-blasted storm you ever see; and the Dolly Dorcas was wrecked. The Dolly Dorcas was my ship. I dunno what become of the others, but there was eight of us in the boat I was in. We had food an’ water an’ a compass an’ sails as well as oars; but still it didn’t look very good. We was way up in the Arctic Ocean an’ winter comin’ on. We could just about kiss ourselves goodby.
“We sailed what we thought was south for a long time, and all the time the compass kept acting stranger an’ stranger. You’d thought the dod-blasted thing had gone crazy. Then we ran out o’ food, an’ the fust thing you knowed we commenced to eat one another—startin in on the weakest fust. Then some of ’em went crazy; an’ two jumped overboard, which was a dirty trick when they knew we craved meat so bad.
“Well, to make a long story short, as the feller said, finally they wasn’t nobody left but me; and then, dod-blast it, if the weather didn’t commence to get warmer, and pretty soon I sighted land and found fruits and nuts, and fresh water. Believe me, it was just in time too; for I was so doggone hungry I was thinkin’ of cuttin’ off one of my legs an’ eatin’ it.”
O-aa sat wide eyed and wondering, drinking in every word. Hodon had never known her to be silent for so long. At last she had met her match.
“What’s become of your brother and your mother’s father?” asked Hodon.
“Eh! What’s that?” demanded the old man.
“I was speaking to O-aa,” said Hodon.
“Well, don’t interrupt me. You talk too much. Now, where was I? You got me all confused.”
“You were thinking of eating your leg,” said O-aa.
“Yes, yes. Well, to make a long story short, as the feller said, I was in Pellucidar. How I ever lived, I’ll be doggone if I know; but I did. I got in with one tribe after another, an’ none of ’em killed me for one reason or another. I learned the language an’ how to hunt with spears. I made out somehow. Finally I stole a canoe an’ set sail on the biggest doggone ocean you ever seen. My beard was a yard long when I landed near here an’ got captured by these things.
“Well, I better start feedin’ you an’ fattenin’ you up. I reckon this gal will be pretty tasty eatin’ right soon.” He reached out and pinched O-aa’s flesh. “Yum!” he exclaimed. “She’s just about right now.”
“Do you eat human flesh?” demanded Hodon.
“Well, you see I sort o’ acquired a taste for it after the Dolly Dorcas was wrecked. Ole Bill was a mite tough an’ rank, but there was a Swede I et who was just about the nicest eatin’ you ever see. Yes, I eat what the Lord furnishes. I reckon I’m goin’ to enjoy both of you.”
“I thought you said you hoped they wouldn’t eat us, because you would like to have our company,” said O-aa.
“Yes, I’m sort o’ torn between two loves, as the feller said: I loves to eat an’ I loves to talk.”
“We like to listen,” said Hodon.
“Yes,” agrees O-aa; “we could listen to you forever.”
What Perry had seen that had brought the scream to his lips was the end of the rope slipping from the drum. He had forgotten to have it made fast! He sprang forward and seized at the rope, but the free balloon leaped upward carrying the rope’s end far above him. Of course his gesture was futile, as a dozen men could not have held the great gas bag that Perry had made.
The old man looked up at the great balloon, rapidly growing smaller as it rose; then he sat down, and, covering his face with his hands, commenced to sob; for he knew that Dian the Beautiful was already as good as dead. No power on earth or within it could save her now.
How high she would be carried he could not even guess, nor how far from Sari. She would doubtless die from lack of oxygen, and then her body would be carried for a thousand miles or more before the bag would lose sufficient gas to bring it down.
He loved Dian the Beautiful as he would have loved a daughter, and he knew that David Innes worshipped her. Now he had killed Dian and wrecked David’s life—the two people he loved most in the world. His silly inventions had done a little good and some harm, but whatever good they had accomplished had been wiped out by this. Worst of all, he realized, was his criminal absent-minded carelessness.
Dian felt the sudden upward rush of the balloon. She looked down over the edge of the basket and instantly realized what had happened. Everything was growing smaller down there. Soon she could no longer distinguish people. She wondered what would become of her. Perhaps she would be carried up to the sun and incinerated. She saw that the wind was carrying the balloon in a south-westerly direction.
She did not realize the greatest error of all that Perry had made; neither did Perry. He had arranged no rip cord on the gas bag. With that, Dian could have let gas out of the bag gradually and made a landing within a comparatively few miles from Sari. Perry was always leaving some essential thing off of everything he built. His first musket had no trigger.
Dian the Beautiful guessed that she was as good as dead. She cried, but not because she was afraid to die. She cried because she would never see David again.
And David, far away, reached the rim of the crater and looked over. Below him, scarcely a hundred feet, he saw a round valley, green with verdure. He saw a little lake and grass thatched shelters and people. He saw Hodon and O-aa. His surmise had been correct.
He saw the strange sabertooth people. There were a couple of hundred of them. How could he, single handed, rescue Hodon and O-aa from such an overwhelming number of enemies?
David Innes was resourceful; but the more he cudgeled his brains, the more hopeless a solution of his problem appeared. It would profit them nothing if he went down into the crater. That would mean simply his own capture; then he could do nothing for them.
He examined the crater closely. The inside walls were perpendicular and unscalable in all but a single place. There the wall had crumbled inward, the rubble forming an incline that reached to the top of the rim that was little more than fifty feet above the floor of the crater at that point. There was an avenue of escape, but how could he call Hodon’s attention to it. How could he create a diversion that would take the attention of their captors from them long enough for them to make a break for freedom. Suddenly he recalled the wind rushing past him as he had stood in the darkness of the cavern that was the entrance to the crater. He turned and started down the mountainside.