THE FACE OF DEATH
I must have fallen asleep from exhaustion. When I awoke I was
very hungry, and after busying myself searching for fruit for a
while, I set off through the jungle to find the beach. I knew
that the island was not so large but that I could easily find the
sea if I did but move in a straight line, but there came the
difficulty as there was no way in which I could direct my course
and hold it, the sun, of course, being always directly above my
head, and the trees so thickly set that I could see no distant
object which might serve to guide me in a straight line.
As it was I must have walked for a great distance since I ate
four times and slept twice before I reached the sea, but at last
I did so, and my pleasure at the sight of it was greatly enhanced
by the chance discovery of a hidden canoe among the bushes
through which I had stumbled just prior to coming upon the
I can tell you that it did not take me long to pull that awkward
craft down to the water and shove it far out from shore. My
experience with Ja had taught me that if I were to steal another
canoe I must be quick about it and get far beyond the owner's
reach as soon as possible.
I must have come out upon the opposite side of the island from
that at which Ja and I had entered it, for the mainland was
nowhere in sight. For a long time I paddled around the shore,
though well out, before I saw the mainland in the distance. At
the sight of it I lost no time in directing my course toward it,
for I had long since made up my mind to return to Phutra and give
myself up that I might be once more with Perry and Ghak the Hairy
I felt that I was a fool ever to have attempted to escape alone,
especially in view of the fact that our plans were already well
formulated to make a break for freedom together. Of course I
realized that the chances of the success of our proposed venture
were slim indeed, but I knew that I never could enjoy freedom
without Perry so long as the old man lived, and I had learned
that the probability that I might find him was less than slight.
Had Perry been dead, I should gladly have pitted my strength
and wit against the savage and primordial world in which I found
myself. I could have lived in seclusion within some rocky cave
until I had found the means to outfit myself with the crude
weapons of the Stone Age, and then set out in search of her whose
image had now become the constant companion of my waking hours,
and the central and beloved figure of my dreams.
But, to the best of my knowledge, Perry still lived and it was my
duty and wish to be again with him, that we might share the
dangers and vicissitudes of the strange world we had discovered.
And Ghak, too; the great, shaggy man had found a place in the
hearts of us both, for he was indeed every inch a man and king.
Uncouth, perhaps, and brutal, too, if judged too harshly by the
standards of effete twentieth-century civilization, but withal
noble, dignified, chivalrous, and loveable.
Chance carried me to the very beach upon which I had
discovered Ja's canoe, and a short time later I was scrambling up
the steep bank to retrace my steps from the plain of Phutra. But
my troubles came when I entered the canyon beyond the summit, for
here I found that several of them centered at the point where I
crossed the divide, and which one I had traversed to reach the
pass I could not for the life of me remember.
It was all a matter of chance and so I set off down that which
seemed the easiest going, and in this I made the same mistake
that many of us do in selecting the path along which we shall
follow out the course of our lives, and again learned that it is
not always best to follow the line of least resistance.
By the time I had eaten eight meals and slept twice I was
convinced that I was upon the wrong trail, for between Phutra and
the inland sea I had not slept at all, and had eaten but once. To
retrace my steps to the summit of the divide and explore another
canyon seemed the only solution of my problem, but a sudden
widening and levelness of the canyon just before me seemed to
suggest that it was about to open into a level country, and with
the lure of discovery strong upon me I decided to proceed but a
short distance farther before I turned back.
The next turn of the canyon brought me to its mouth, and before
me I saw a narrow plain leading down to an ocean. At my right the
side of the canyon continued to the water's edge, the valley
lying to my left, and the foot of it running gradually into the
sea, where it formed a broad level beach.
Clumps of strange trees dotted the landscape here and there
almost to the water, and rank grass and ferns grew between. From
the nature of the vegetation I was convinced that the land
between the ocean and the foothills was swampy, though directly
before me it seemed dry enough all the way to the sandy strip
along which the restless waters advanced and retreated.
Curiosity prompted me to walk down to the beach, for the scene
was very beautiful. As I passed along beside the deep and tangled
vegetation of the swamp I thought that I saw a movement of the
ferns at my left, but though I stopped a moment to look it was
not repeated, and if anything lay hid there my eyes could not
penetrate the dense foliage to discern it.
Presently I stood upon the beach looking out over the wide and
lonely sea across whose forbidding bosom no human being had yet
ventured, to discover what strange and mysterious lands lay
beyond, or what its invisible islands held of riches, wonders, or
adventure. What savage faces, what fierce and formidable beasts
were this very instant watching the lapping of the waves upon its
farther shore! How far did it extend? Perry had told me that the
seas of Pellucidar were small in comparison with those of the
outer crust, but even so this great ocean might stretch its broad
expanse for thousands of miles. For countless ages it had rolled
up and down its countless miles of shore, and yet today it
remained all unknown beyond the tiny strip that was visible from
The fascination of speculation was strong upon me. It was as
though I had been carried back to the birth time of our own outer
world to look upon its lands and seas ages before man had
traversed either. Here was a new world, all untouched. It called
to me to explore it. I was dreaming of the excitement and
adventure which lay before us could Perry and I but escape the
Mahars, when something, a slight noise I imagine, drew my
attention behind me.
As I turned, romance, adventure, and discovery in the abstract
took wing before the terrible embodiment of all three in concrete
form that I beheld advancing upon me.
A huge, slimy amphibian it was, with toad-like body and the
mighty jaws of an alligator. Its immense carcass must have
weighed tons, and yet it moved swiftly and silently toward me.
Upon one hand was the bluff that ran from the canyon to the sea,
on the other the fearsome swamp from which the creature had
sneaked upon me, behind lay the mighty untracked sea, and before
me in the center of the narrow way that led to safety stood this
huge mountain of terrible and menacing flesh.
A single glance at the thing was sufficient to assure me that
I was facing one of those long-extinct, prehistoric creatures
whose fossilized remains are found within the outer crust as far
back as the Triassic formation, a gigantic labyrinthodon. And
there I was, unarmed, and, with the exception of a loin cloth, as
naked as I had come into the world. I could imagine how my first
ancestor felt that distant, prehistoric morn that he encountered
for the first time the terrifying progenitor of the thing that
had me cornered now beside the restless, mysterious sea.
Unquestionably he had escaped, or I should not have been within
Pellucidar or elsewhere, and I wished at that moment that he had
handed down to me with the various attributes that I presumed I
have inherited from him, the specific application of the instinct
of self-preservation which saved him from the fate which loomed
so close before me today.
To seek escape in the swamp or in the ocean would have been
similar to jumping into a den of lions to escape one upon the
outside. The sea and swamp both were doubtless alive with these
mighty, carnivorous amphibians, and if not, the individual that
menaced me would pursue me into either the sea or the swamp with
There seemed nothing to do but stand supinely and await my end. I
thought of Perry--how he would wonder what had become of me. I
thought of my friends of the outer world, and of how they all
would go on living their lives in total ignorance of the strange
and terrible fate that had overtaken me, or unguessing the weird
surroundings which had witnessed the last frightful agony of my
extinction. And with these thoughts came a realization of how
unimportant to the life and happiness of the world is the
existence of any one of us. We may be snuffed out without an
instant's warning, and for a brief day our friends speak of us
with subdued voices. The following morning, while the first worm
is busily engaged in testing the construction of our coffin, they
are teeing up for the first hole to suffer more acute sorrow over
a sliced ball than they did over our, to us, untimely demise. The
labyrinthodon was coming more slowly now. He seemed to realize
that escape for me was impossible, and I could have sworn that
his huge, fanged jaws grinned in pleasurable appreciation of my
predicament, or was it in anticipation of the juicy morsel which
would so soon be pulp between those formidable teeth?
He was about fifty feet from me when I heard a voice calling
to me from the direction of the bluff at my left. I looked and
could have shouted in delight at the sight that met my eyes, for
there stood Ja, waving frantically to me, and urging me to run
for it to the cliff's base.
I had no idea that I should escape the monster that had marked me
for his breakfast, but at least I should not die alone. Human
eyes would watch me end. It was cold comfort I presume, but yet I
derived some slight peace of mind from the contemplation of it.
To run seemed ridiculous, especially toward that steep and
unscalable cliff, and yet I did so, and as I ran I saw Ja, agile
as a monkey, crawl down the precipitous face of the rocks,
clinging to small projections, and the tough creepers that had
found root-hold here and there.
The labyrinthodon evidently thought that Ja was coming to double
his portion of human flesh, so he was in no haste to pursue me to
the cliff and frighten away this other tidbit. Instead he merely
trotted along behind me.
As I approached the foot of the cliff I saw what Ja intended
doing, but I doubted if the thing would prove successful. He had
come down to within twenty feet of the bottom, and there,
clinging with one hand to a small ledge, and with his feet
resting, precariously upon tiny bushes that grew from the solid
face of the rock, he lowered the point of his long spear until it
hung some six feet above the ground.
To clamber up that slim shaft without dragging Ja down and
precipitating both to the same doom from which the copper-colored
one was attempting to save me seemed utterly impossible, and as I
came near the spear I told Ja so, and that I could not risk him
to try to save myself.
But he insisted that he knew what he was doing and was in no
"The danger is still yours," he called, "for unless you move much
more rapidly than you are now, the sithic will be upon you and
drag you back before ever you are halfway up the spear--he can
rear up and reach you with ease anywhere below where I stand."
Well, Ja should know his own business, I thought, and so I
grasped the spear and clambered up toward the red man as rapidly
as I could--being so far removed from my simian ancestors as I
am. I imagine the slow-witted sithic, as Ja called him, suddenly
realized our intentions and that he was quite likely to lose all
his meal instead of having it doubled as he had hoped.
When he saw me clambering up that spear he let out a hiss that
fairly shook the ground, and came charging after me at a terrific
rate. I had reached the top of the spear by this time, or almost;
another six inches would give me a hold on Ja's hand, when I felt
a sudden wrench from below and glancing fearfully downward saw
the mighty jaws of the monster close on the sharp point of the
I made a frantic effort to reach Ja's hand, the sithic gave a
tremendous tug that came near to jerking Ja from his frail hold
on the surface of the rock, the spear slipped from his fingers,
and still clinging to it I plunged feet foremost toward my
At the instant that he felt the spear come away from Ja's hand
the creature must have opened his huge jaws to catch me, for when
I came down, still clinging to the butt end of the weapon, the
point yet rested in his mouth and the result was that the
sharpened end transfixed his lower jaw.
With the pain he snapped his mouth closed. I fell upon his
snout, lost my hold upon the spear, rolled the length of his face
and head, across his short neck onto his broad back and from
there to the ground.
Scarce had I touched the earth than I was upon my feet, dashing
madly for the path by which I had entered this horrible valley. A
glance over my shoulder showed me the sithic engaged in pawing at
the spear stuck through his lower jaw, and so busily engaged did
he remain in this occupation that I had gained the safety of the
cliff top before he was ready to take up the pursuit. When he did
not discover me in sight within the valley he dashed, hissing
into the rank vegetation of the swamp and that was the last I saw