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THE MENACE OF THE DEADEdit

The night was still young when there came one to the entrance of

the banquet hall where O-Tar of Manator dined with his chiefs,

and brushing past the guards entered the great room with the

insolence of a privileged character, as in truth he was. As he

approached the head of the long board O-Tar took notice of him.


"Well, hoary one!" he cried. "What brings you out of your beloved

and stinking burrow again this day. We thought that the sight of

the multitude of living men at the games would drive you back to

your corpses as quickly as you could go."


The cackling laugh of I-Gos acknowledged the royal sally. "Ey,

ey, O-Tar," squeaked the ancient one, "I-Gos goes out not upon

pleasure bound; but when one does ruthlessly desecrate the dead

of I-Gos, vengeance must be had!"


"You refer to the act of the slave Turan?" demanded O-Tar.


"Turan, yes, and the slave Tara, who slipped beneath my hide a

murderous blade. Another fraction of an inch, O-Tar, and I-Gos'

ancient and wrinkled covering were even now in some apprentice

tanner's hands, ey, ey!"


"But they have again eluded us," cried O-Tar. "Even in the palace

of the great jeddak twice have they escaped the stupid knaves I

call The Jeddak's Guard." O-Tar had risen and was angrily

emphasizing his words with heavy blows upon the table, dealt with

a golden goblet.


"Ey, O-Tar, they elude thy guard but not the wise old calot,

I-Gos."


"What mean you? Speak!" commanded O-Tar.


"I know where they are hid," said the ancient taxidermist. "In

the dust of unused corridors their feet have betrayed them."


"You followed them? You have seen them?" demanded the jeddak.


"I followed them and I heard them speaking beyond a closed door,"

replied I-Gos; "but I did not see them."


"Where is that door?" cried O-Tar. "We will send at once and

fetch them," he looked about the table as though to decide to

whom he would entrust this duty. A dozen warrior chiefs arose and

laid their hands upon their swords.


"To the chambers of O-Mai the Cruel I traced them," squeaked

I-Gos. "There you will find them where the moaning Corphals

pursue the shrieking ghost of O-Mai; ey!" and he turned his eyes

from O-Tar toward the warriors who had arisen, only to discover

that, to a man, they were hurriedly resuming their seats.


The cackling laughter of I-Gos broke derisively the hush that had

fallen on the room. The warriors looked sheepishly at the food

upon their plates of gold. O-Tar snapped his fingers impatiently.


"Be there only cravens among the chiefs of Manator?" he cried.

"Repeatedly have these presumptuous slaves flouted the majesty of

your jeddak. Must I command one to go and fetch them?"


Slowly a chief arose and two others followed his example, though

with ill-concealed reluctance. "All, then, are not cowards,"

commented O-Tar. "The duty is distasteful. Therefore all three of

you shall go, taking as many warriors as you wish."


"But do not ask for volunteers," interrupted I-Gos, "or you will

go alone."


The three chiefs turned and left the banquet hall, walking slowly

like doomed men to their fate.


Gahan and Tara remained in the chamber to which Tasor had led

them, the man brushing away the dust from a deep and comfortable

bench where they might rest in comparative comfort. He had found

the ancient sleeping silks and furs too far gone to be of any

service, crumbling to powder at a touch, thus removing any chance

of making a comfortable bed for the girl, and so the two sat

together, talking in low tones, of the adventures through which

they already had passed and speculating upon the future; planning

means of escape and hoping Tasor would not be long gone. They

spoke of many things--of Hastor, and Helium, and Ptarth, and

finally the conversation reminded Tara of Gathol.


"You have served there?" she asked.


"Yes," replied Turan.


"I met Gahan the Jed of Gathol at my father's palace," she said,

"the very day before the storm snatched me from Helium--he was a

presumptuous fellow, magnificently trapped in platinum and

diamonds. Never in my life saw I so gorgeous a harness as his,

and you must well know, Turan, that the splendor of all Barsoom

passes through the court at Helium; but in my mind I could not

see so resplendent a creature drawing that jeweled sword in

mortal combat. I fear me that the Jed of Gathol, though a pretty

picture of a man, is little else."


In the dim light Tara did not perceive the wry expression upon

the half-averted face of her companion.


"You thought little then of the Jed of Gathol?" he asked.


"Then or now," she replied, and with a little laugh; "how it

would pique his vanity to know, if he might, that a poor panthan

had won a higher place in the regard of Tara of Helium," and she

laid her fingers gently upon his knee.


He seized the fingers in his and carried them to his lips. "O,

Tara of Helium," he cried. "Think you that I am a man of stone?"

One arm slipped about her shoulders and drew the yielding body

toward him.


"May my first ancestor forgive me my weakness," she cried, as her

arms stole about his neck and she raised her panting lips to his.

For long they clung there in love's first kiss and then she

pushed him away, gently. "I love you, Turan," she half sobbed; "I

love you so! It is my only poor excuse for having done this wrong

to Djor Kantos, whom now I know I never loved, who knew not the

meaning of love. And if you love me as you say, Turan, your love

must protect me from greater dishonor, for I am but as clay in

your hands."


Again he crushed her to him and then as suddenly released her,

and rising, strode rapidly to and fro across the chamber as

though he endeavored by violent exercise to master and subdue

some evil spirit that had laid hold upon him. Ringing through his

brain and heart and soul like some joyous paean were those words

that had so altered the world for Gahan of Gathol: "I love you,

Turan; I love you so!" And it had come so suddenly. He had

thought that she felt for him only gratitude for his loyalty and

then, in an instant, her barriers were all down, she was no

longer a princess; but instead a--his reflections were

interrupted by a sound from beyond the closed door. His sandals

of zitidar hide had given forth no sound upon the marble floor he

strode, and as his rapid pacing carried him past the entrance to

the chamber there came faintly from the distance of the long

corridor the sound of metal on metal--the unmistakable herald of

the approach of armed men.


For a moment Gahan listened intently, close to the door, until

there could be no doubt but that a party of warriors was

approaching. From what Tasor had told him he guessed correctly

that they would be coming to this portion of the palace but for a

single purpose--to search for Tara and himself--and it behooved

him therefore to seek immediate means for eluding them. The

chamber in which they were had other doorways beside that at

which they had entered, and to one of these he must look for some

safer hiding place. Crossing to Tara he acquainted her with his

suspicion, leading her to one of the doors which they found

unsecured. Beyond it lay a dimly-lighted chamber at the threshold

of which they halted in consternation, drawing back quickly into

the chamber they had just quitted, for their first glance

revealed four warriors seated around a jetan board.


That their entrance had not been noted was attributed by Gahan to

the absorption of the two players and their friends in the game.

Quietly closing the door the fugitives moved silently to the

next, which they found locked. There was now but another door

which they had not tried, and this they approached quickly as

they knew that the searching party must be close to the chamber.

To their chagrin they found this avenue of escape barred.


Now indeed were they in a sorry plight, for should the searchers

have information leading them to this room they were lost. Again

leading Tara to the door behind which were the jetan players

Gahan drew his sword and waited, listening. The sound of the

party in the corridor came distinctly to their ears--they must be

quite close, and doubtless they were coming in force. Beyond the

door were but four warriors who might be readily surprised. There

could, then, be but one choice and acting upon it Gahan quietly

opened the door again, stepped through into the adjoining

chamber, Tara's hand in his, and closed the door behind them. The

four at the jetan board evidently failed to hear them. One player

had either just made or was contemplating a move, for his fingers

grasped a piece that still rested upon the board. The other three

were watching his move. For an instant Gahan looked at them,

playing jetan there in the dim light of this forgotten and

forbidden chamber, and then a slow smile of understanding lighted

his face.


"Come!" he said to Tara. "We have nothing to fear from these. For

more than five thousand years they have sat thus, a monument to

the handiwork of some ancient taxidermist."


As they approached more closely they saw that the lifelike

figures were coated with dust, but that otherwise the skin was in

as fine a state of preservation as the most recent of I-Gos'

groups, and then they heard the door of the chamber they had

quitted open and knew that the searchers were close upon them.

Across the room they saw the opening of what appeared to be a

corridor and which investigation proved to be a short passageway,

terminating in a chamber in the center of which was an ornate

sleeping dais. This room, like the others, was but poorly

lighted, time having dimmed the radiance of its bulbs and coated

them with dust. A glance showed that it was hung with heavy goods

and contained considerable massive furniture in addition to the

sleeping platform, a second glance at which revealed what

appeared to be the form of a man lying partially on the floor and

partially on the dais. No doorways were visible other than that

at which they had entered, though both knew that others might be

concealed by the hangings.


Gahan, his curiosity aroused by the legends surrounding this

portion of the palace, crossed to the dais to examine the figure

that apparently had fallen from it, to find the dried and

shrivelled corpse of a man lying upon his back on the floor with

arms outstretched and fingers stiffly outspread. One of his feet

was doubled partially beneath him, while the other was still

entangled in the sleeping silks and furs upon the dais. After

five thousand years the expression of the withered face and the

eyeless sockets retained the aspect of horrid fear to such an

extent, that Gahan knew that he was looking upon the body of

O-Mai the Cruel.


Suddenly Tara, who stood close beside him, clutched his arm and

pointed toward a far corner of the room. Gahan looked and looking

felt the hairs upon his neck rising. He threw his left arm about

the girl and with bared sword stood between her and the hangings

that they watched, and then slowly Gahan of Gathol backed away,

for in this grim and somber chamber, which no human foot had trod

for five thousand years and to which no breath of wind might

enter, the heavy hangings in the far corner had moved. Not gently

had they moved as a draught might have moved them had there been

a draught, but suddenly they had bulged out as though pushed

against from behind. To the opposite corner backed Gahan until

they stood with their backs against the hangings there, and then

hearing the approach of their pursuers across the chamber beyond

Gahan pushed Tara through the hangings and, following her, kept

open with his left hand, which he had disengaged from the girl's

grasp, a tiny opening through which he could view the apartment

and the doorway upon the opposite side through which the pursuers

would enter, if they came this far.


Behind the hangings there was a space of about three feet in

width between them and the wall, making a passageway entirely

around the room, broken only by the single entrance opposite

them; this being a common arrangement especially in the sleeping

apartments of the rich and powerful upon Barsoom. The purposes of

this arrangement were several. The passageway afforded a station

for guards in the same room with their master without intruding

entirely upon his privacy; it concealed secret exits from the

chamber; it permitted the occupant of the room to hide

eavesdroppers and assassins for use against enemies that he might

lure to his chamber.


The three chiefs with a dozen warriors had had no difficulty in

following the tracks of the fugitives through the dust of the

corridors and chambers they had traversed. To enter this portion

of the palace at all had required all the courage they possessed,

and now that they were within the very chambers of O-Mai their

nerves were pitched to the highest key--another turn and they

would snap; for the people of Manator are filled with weird

superstitions. As they entered the outer chamber they moved

slowly, with drawn swords, no one seeming anxious to take the

lead, and the twelve warriors hanging back in unconcealed and

shameless terror, while the three chiefs, spurred on by fear of

O-Tar and by pride, pressed together for mutual encouragement as

they slowly crossed the dimly-lighted room.


Following the tracks of Gahan and Tara they found that though

each doorway had been approached only one threshold had been

crossed and this door they gingerly opened, revealing to their

astonished gaze the four warriors at the jetan table. For a

moment they were on the verge of flight, for though they knew

what they were, coming as they did upon them in this mysterious

and haunted suite, they were as startled as though they had

beheld the very ghosts of the departed. But they presently

regained their courage sufficiently to cross this chamber too and

enter the short passageway that led to the ancient sleeping

apartment of O-Mai the Cruel. They did not know that this awful

chamber lay just before them, or it were doubtful that they would

have proceeded farther; but they saw that those they sought had

come this way and so they followed, but within the gloomy

interior of the chamber they halted, the three chiefs urging

their followers, in low whispers, to close in behind them, and

there just within the entrance they stood until, their eyes

becoming accustomed to the dim light, one of them pointed

suddenly to the thing lying upon the floor with one foot tangled

in the coverings of the dais.


"Look!" he gasped. "It is the corpse of O-Mai! Ancestor of

ancestors! we are in the forbidden chamber." Simultaneously there

came from behind the hangings beyond the grewsome dead a hollow

moan followed by a piercing scream, and the hangings shook and

bellied before their eyes.


With one accord, chieftains and warriors, they turned and bolted

for the doorway; a narrow doorway, where they jammed, fighting

and screaming in an effort to escape. They threw away their

swords and clawed at one another to make a passage for escape;

those behind climbed upon the shoulders of those in front; and

some fell and were trampled upon; but at last they all got

through, and, the swiftest first, they bolted across the two

intervening chambers to the outer corridor beyond, nor did they

halt their mad retreat before they stumbled, weak and trembling,

into the banquet hall of O-Tar. At sight of them the warriors who

had remained with the jeddak leaped to their feet with drawn

swords, thinking that their fellows were pursued by many enemies;

but no one followed them into the room, and the three chieftains

came and stood before O-Tar with bowed heads and trembling knees.


"Well?" demanded the jeddak. "What ails you? Speak!"


"O-Tar," cried one of them when at last he could master his

voice. "When have we three failed you in battle or combat? Have

our swords been not always among the foremost in defense of your

safety and your honor?"


"Have I denied this?" demanded O-Tar.


"Listen, then, O Jeddak, and judge us with leniency. We followed

the two slaves to the apartments of O-Mai the Cruel. We entered

the accursed chambers and still we did not falter. We came at

last to that horrid chamber no human eye had scanned before in

fifty centuries and we looked upon the dead face of O-Mai lying

as he has lain for all this time. To the very death chamber of

O-Mai the Cruel we came and yet we were ready to go farther; when

suddenly there broke upon our horrified ears the moans and the

shrieking that mark these haunted chambers and the hangings moved

and rustled in the dead air. O-Tar, it was more than human nerves

could endure. We turned and fled. We threw away our swords and

fought with one another to escape. With sorrow, but without

shame, I tell it, for there be no man in all Manator that would

not have done the same. If these slaves be Corphals they are safe

among their fellow ghosts. If they be not Corphals, then already

are they dead in the chambers of O-Mai, and there may they rot

for all of me, for I would not return to that accursed spot for

the harness of a jeddak and the half of Barsoom for an empire. I

have spoken."


O-Tar knitted his scowling brows. "Are all my chieftains cowards

and cravens?" he demanded presently in sneering tones.


From among those who had not been of the searching party a

chieftain arose and turned a scowling face upon O-Tar.


"The jeddak knows," he said, "that in the annals of Manator her

jeddaks have ever been accounted the bravest of her warriors.

Where my jeddak leads I will follow, nor may any jeddak call me a

coward or a craven unless I refuse to go where he dares to go. I

have spoken."


After he had resumed his seat there was a painful silence, for

all knew that the speaker had challenged the courage of O-Tar the

Jeddak of Manator and all awaited the reply of their ruler. In

every mind was the same thought--O-Tar must lead them at once to

the chamber of O-Mai the Cruel, or accept forever the stigma of

cowardice, and there could be no coward upon the throne of

Manator. That they all knew and that O-Tar knew, as well.


But O-Tar hesitated. He looked about upon the faces of those

around him at the banquet board; but he saw only the grim visages

of relentless warriors. There was no trace of leniency in the

face of any. And then his eyes wandered to a small entrance at

one side of the great chamber. An expression of relief expunged

the scowl of anxiety from his features.


"Look!" he exclaimed. "See who has come!"