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Книга Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Содержание - VI The Jeddak of Lothar

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«You believe that I did this thing, Thuvia?» he asked.

«Ah, Carthoris,» she replied sadly, «I did not wish to believe it; but when everything pointed to you-even then I would not believe it.»

«I did not do it, Thuvia,» he said. «But let me be entirely honest with you. As much as I love your father, as much as I respect Kulan Tith, to whom you are betrothed, as well as I know the frightful consequences that must have followed such an act of mine, hurling into war, as it would, three of the greatest nations of Barsoom-yet, notwithstanding all this, I should not have hesitated to take you thus, Thuvia of Ptarth, had you even hinted that it would not have displeased YOU.

«But you did nothing of the kind, and so I am here, not in my own service, but in yours, and in the service of the man to whom you are promised, to save you for him, if it lies within the power of man to do so,» he concluded, almost bitterly.

Thuvia of Ptarth looked into his face for several moments. Her breast was rising and falling as though to some resistless emotion. She half took a step toward him. Her lips parted as though to speak-swiftly and impetuously.

And then she conquered whatever had moved her.

«The future acts of the Prince of Helium,» she said coldly, «must constitute the proof of his past honesty of purpose.»

Carthoris was hurt by the girl's tone, as much as by the doubt as to his integrity which her words implied.

He had half hoped that she might hint that his love would be acceptable-certainly there was due him at least a little gratitude for his recent acts in her behalf; but the best he received was cold skepticism.

The Prince of Helium shrugged his broad shoulders. The girl noted it, and the little smile that touched his lips, so that it became her turn to be hurt.

Of course she had not meant to hurt him. He might have known that after what he had said she could not do anything to encourage him! But he need not have made his indifference quite so palpable. The men of Helium were noted for their gallantry-not for boorishness. Possibly it was the Earth blood that flowed in his veins.

How could she know that the shrug was but Carthoris' way of attempting, by physical effort, to cast blighting sorrow from his heart, or that the smile upon his lips was the fighting smile of his father with which the son gave outward evidence of the determination he had reached to submerge his own great love in his efforts to save Thuvia of Ptarth for another, because he believed that she loved this other!

He reverted to his original question.

«Where are we?» he asked. «I do not know.»

«Nor I,» replied the girl. «Those who stole me from Ptarth spoke among themselves of Aaanthor, so that I thought it possible that the ancient city to which they took me was that famous ruin; but where we may be now I have no idea.»

«When the bowmen return we shall doubtless learn all that there is to know,» said Carthoris. «Let us hope that they prove friendly. What race may they be? Only in the most ancient of our legends and in the mural paintings of the deserted cities of the dead sea-bottoms are depicted such a race of auburn-haired, fair-skinned people. Can it be that we have stumbled upon a surviving city of the past which all Barsoom believes buried beneath the ages?»

Thuvia was looking toward the forest into which the green men and the pursuing bowmen had disappeared. From a great distance came the hideous cries of banths, and an occasional shot.

«It is strange that they do not return,» said the girl.

«One would expect to see the wounded limping or being carried back to the city,» replied Carthoris, with a puzzled frown. «But how about the wounded nearer the city? Have they carried them within?»

Both turned their eyes toward the field between them and the walled city, where the fighting had been most furious.

There were the banths, still growling about their hideous feast.

Carthoris looked at Thuvia in astonishment. Then he pointed toward the field.

«Where are they?» he whispered. «WHAT HAS BECOME OF THEIR DEAD AND WOUNDED?»

VI The Jeddak of Lothar

The girl looked her incredulity.

«They lay in piles,» she murmured. «There were thousands of them but a minute ago.»

«And now,» continued Carthoris, «there remain but the banths and the carcasses of the green men.»

«They must have sent forth and carried the dead bowmen away while we were talking,» said the girl.

«It is impossible!» replied Carthoris. «Thousands of dead lay there upon the field but a moment since. It would have required many hours to have removed them. The thing is uncanny.»

«I had hoped,» said Thuvia, «that we might find an asylum with these fair-skinned people. Notwithstanding their valour upon the field of battle, they did not strike me as a ferocious or warlike people. I had been about to suggest that we seek entrance to the city, but now I scarce know if I care to venture among people whose dead vanish into thin air.»

«Let us chance it,» replied Carthoris. «We can be no worse off within their walls than without. Here we may fall prey to the banths or the no less fierce Torquasians. There, at least, we shall find beings moulded after our own images.

«All that causes me to hesitate,» he added, «is the danger of taking you past so many banths. A single sword would scarce prevail were even a couple of them to charge simultaneously.»

«Do not fear on that score,» replied the girl, smiling. «The banths will not harm us.»

As she spoke she descended from the platform, and with Carthoris at her side stepped fearlessly out upon the bloody field in the direction of the walled city of mystery.

They had advanced but a short distance when a banth, looking up from its gory feast, descried them. With an angry roar the beast walked quickly in their direction, and at the sound of its voice a score of others followed its example.

Carthoris drew his long-sword. The girl stole a quick glance at his face. She saw the smile upon his lips, and it was as wine to sick nerves; for even upon warlike Barsoom where all men are brave, woman reacts quickly to quiet indifference to danger-to dare-deviltry that is without bombast.

«You may return your sword,» she said. «I told you that the banths would not harm us. Look!» and as she spoke she stepped quickly toward the nearest animal.

Carthoris would have leaped after her to protect her, but with a gesture she motioned him back. He heard her calling to the banths in a low, singsong voice that was half purr.

Instantly the great heads went up and all the wicked eyes were riveted upon the figure of the girl. Then, stealthily, they commenced moving toward her. She had stopped now and was standing waiting them.

One, closer to her than the others, hesitated. She spoke to him imperiously, as a master might speak to a refractory hound.

The great carnivore let its head droop, and with tail between its legs came slinking to the girl's feet, and after it came the others until she was entirely surrounded by the savage maneaters.

Turning she led them to where Carthoris stood. They growled a little as they neared the man, but a few sharp words of command put them in their places.

«How do you do it?» exclaimed Carthoris.

«Your father once asked me that same question in the galleries of the Golden Cliffs within the Otz Mountains, beneath the temples of the therns. I could not answer him, nor can I answer you. I do not know whence comes my power over them, but ever since the day that Sator Throg threw me among them in the banth pit of the Holy Therns, and the great creatures fawned upon instead of devouring me, I ever have had the same strange power over them. They come at my call and do my bidding, even as the faithful Woola does the bidding of your mighty sire.»

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