Hodon seized upon this moment to voice a suggestion that had been in his mind for some time. “Why don’t you escape?” he asked the old man.
“Eh? What? Escape? Why—er—I haven’t thought of it since before my last bicuspid dropped out. But of course I couldn’t escape.”
“I don’t see why not,” said Hodon. “I don’t see why the three of us couldn’t escape. Don’t you see that low place there? We could run up there in no time if you could find some way to get their attention somewhere else.”
“M-m-m,” murmured the old man thoughtfully. “Sometimes many of them are asleep at the same time. It might be done, but I doubt it. Anyway, what good would it do me to escape? I’d only be killed by the first tribe that captured me if some of the beasts didn’t get me before.”
“No,” said Hodon. “I would take you to Sari. They would treat you well there. You might meet some old friends. There are two men from Hartford, Connecticut there.”
The old man became instantly alert. “What do you know about Hartford, Connecticut?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” said Hodon, “but these men do. I have heard them speak of it many times.”
“How did they get down here? That must be a story like mine. I’ll bet they’d like to hear my story.”
“I know they would,” said O-aa, who was nobody’s fool. “I think you ought to come with us.”
“I’ll think it over,” said the old man.
David Innes made his way to the entrance to the tube. He gathered dry wood and leaves and green grass, and he piled it far into the tube, with the grass on top. Then he made fire and lighted it. As soon as he saw that it was burning freely, he ran from the tube and started up the side of the mountain as fast as he could go.
When he reached the top and looked over he saw smoke rising from the opening into the tube. Already a jabbering crowd of sabertooth men were gathering about it. Others were joining them. David was just about to risk everything by shouting to Hodon to run for the low place in the rim, when he saw O-aa, Hodon, and another walking toward it. He saw that the third member of the party was not one of the natives; so he assumed it must be another prisoner.
The diversion that Hodon had hoped for had occurred almost miraculously, and the three lost no time in taking advantage of it.
“You are sure, are you, that these men from Hartford, Connecticut, are where we are going?” demanded the old man. “Dod-burn you, if they ain’t, I’ll eat you the first chance I get.”
“Oh, they’re there all right,” said O-aa. “I saw them just before we left.”
Hodon looked at her in amazement not unmixed with admiration. “We may see one of them before we get to Sari,” he said. “He was with me just before we were captured.”
“I hope so,” said the old man. “I’d sure like to see some one from Hartford. By gum, I’d even like to see some one from Kansas.”
“Oh,” said O-aa with a shrug. “We know lots of people from Kansas. You can see all you want.”
Hodon’s expression turned to one of awe, but now they were at the base of the shelving rubble. He looked back. Every single sabertooth was gathered around the smoking vent; not an eye was turned in their direction. “Start up slowly,” he cautioned. “Do not start to hurry unless they discover what we are doing; then you’ll really have to climb. Once on the outside you and I, O-aa, can outdistance any of them, but I don’t know about the old man.”
“Listen, son,” said that worthy. “I can run circles around you and all your family. Why, when I was a young man they used to race me against race horses. I’d give ’em two lengths start and beat ’em in a mile.”
Hodon didn’t know what a horse was; but he had an idea that whatever it was the old man was lying; so he said nothing. He was thinking that between O-aa and the old man it was a toss-up.
They reached the summit without being detected; and as they started down, Hodon saw David coming toward him. He hurried forward to meet him, “It was you who started the fire that made the smoke, wasn’t it? But how did you know we were in the crater?”
“Is this one of the men from Hartford?” demanded the little old man.
“Yes,” said Hodon, “but don’t start telling him the story of your life now. Wait until we get out of reach of your friends.”