The Chessmen of Mars HTML version

Chapter 20. The Charge Of Cowardice
GAHAN, watching through the aperture between the hangings, saw the frantic flight of
their pursuers. A grim smile rested upon his lips as he viewed the mad scramble for
safety and saw them throw away their swords and fight with one another to be first from
the chamber of fear, and when they were all gone he turned back toward Tara, the smile
still upon his lips; but the smile died the instant that he turned, for he saw that Tara had
"Tara!" he called in a loud voice, for he knew that there was no danger that their pursuers
would return; but there was no response, unless it was a faint sound as of cackling
laughter from afar. Hurriedly he searched the passageway behind the hangings finding
several doors, one of which was ajar. Through this he entered the adjoining chamber
which was lighted more brilliantly for the moment by the soft rays of hurtling Thuria
taking her mad way through the heavens. Here he found the dust upon the floor disturbed,
and the imprint of sandals. They had come this way--Tara and whatever the creature was
that had stolen her.
But what could it have been? Gahan, a man of culture and high intelligence, held few if
any superstitions. In common with nearly all races of Barsoom he clung, more or less
inherently, to a certain exalted form of ancestor worship, though it was rather the memory
or legends of the virtues and heroic deeds of his forebears that he deified rather than
themselves. He never expected any tangible evidence of their existence after death; he did
not believe that they had the power either for good or for evil other than the effect that
their example while living might have had upon following generations; he did not believe
therefore in the materialization of dead spirits. If there was a life hereafter he knew
nothing of it, for he knew that science had demonstrated the existence of some material
cause for every seemingly supernatural phenomenon of ancient religions and
superstitions. Yet he was at a loss to know what power might have removed Tara so
suddenly and mysteriously from his side in a chamber that had not known the presence of
man for five thousand years.
In the darkness he could not see whether there were the imprints of other sandals than
Tara's--only that the dust was disturbed--and when it led him into gloomy corridors he
lost the trail altogether. A perfect labyrinth of passages and apartments were now
revealed to him as he hurried on through the deserted quarters of O-Mai. Here was an
ancient bath--doubtless that of the jeddak himself, and again he passed through a room in
which a meal had been laid upon a table five thousand years before--the untasted
breakfast of O-Mai, perhaps. There passed before his eyes in the brief moments that he
traversed the chambers, a wealth of ornaments and jewels and precious metals that
surprised even the Jed of Gathol whose harness was of diamonds and platinum and whose
riches were the envy of a world. But at last his search of O-Mai's chambers ended in a
small closet in the floor of which was the opening to a spiral runway leading straight
down into Stygian darkness. The dust at the entrance of the closet had been freshly
disturbed, and as this was the only possible indication that Gahan had of the direction