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Nkima Speaks


David A. Adams

Copyright © 1999

The Princess In Heroic Couplets

My submission to ERBapa #60, Winter 1999 was a rather strange one. I decided to set ERB's A Princess of Mars into heroic couplets, and what you have before you are my results from the first three chapters. I realize that this project may not interest everyone; indeed, some of you may find it boring, but I had fun doing it. I just thought it might be interesting to see what happens when ERB's prose is treated this way.

My rule of thumb was to retain as much of ERB's original text as possible, which severely limited my own poetic vision, but this method seemed to do the least amount of damage to his worthy prose. My lines should rhyme in couplets, and each line should hold 10 syllables. For the most part, I was able to achieve this goal, so at least in this little experiment, ERB's prose proves to be amenable to a strict poetic treatment.

Heroic Couplets: The Nature and History of the Form

The heroic couplet is a verse form in iambic pentameter with lines rhymed in pairs. It is one of the most important meters of English syllabic verse. The credit for development of the form as a medium for sustained expression belongs to Chaucer. Dryden made it the principal medium for dramatic verse. Pope brought its epigrammatic quality to an even higher state of perfection. Johnson, Goldsmith, Crabbe, Cowper, Byron, Hunt, Keats, Shelley, Browning, Swinburne, and Morris all made notable use of the heroic couplet though the form began to decline in prominence early in the romantic period. (from The Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms)

The most notable translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into English are those made by Alexander Pope between 1715 and 1726. He employed heroic couplets for these famous translations.

Classic Burroughs

Erling B. Holtsmark points out in his Tarzan and Tradition: Classical th in Popular Literature that Burroughs' novels "are conceived and to a large extent executed in a manner that speaks of a classical background and classical influences." His landmark study is based on the premise that Burroughs' "use of language and literary technique was deeply influenced by his familiarity with the classical languages and literatures." Holtsmark's makes much use of Homer in his scholarly literary comparisons, especially linking Tarzan to Odysseus.

Ultimately, my project must be viewed as an homage to ERB rather than a poetic proof of any kind. I have necessarily changed many words to fit the poetic form, yet I hope my efforts have not detracted from the Burroughsian vision. My desire was to utilize the strength of his words by demonstrating how they can be easily set into a poetic form which I believe underlies much of his work.

For example: ERB's original prose text from the end of chapter two reads as follows:

"Few western wonders are more inspiring

than the beauties of an Arizona moonlit landscape;

the silvered mountains in the distance,

the strange lights and shadows upon hog back

and arroyo, and the grotesque details

of the stiff, yet beautiful cacti form

a picture at once enchanting and inspiring;

as though one were catching for the first time

a glimpse of some dead and forgotten world,

so different is it from the aspect

of any other spot upon our earth."

This is of course a very fine picture without changing a single word. My own setting changes very little, except in places to make the syllable count and rhyme fit the heroic pattern.

Few western wonders are more eloquent

Than an Arizona moonlit landscape;

The silvered mountains in the distance drape

Strange lights and shadows upon hog back

And arroyo, and the grotesque night track

Of the stiff, yet beautiful cacti form

A picture at once enchanting and warm;

As though one were catching for the first time

A glimpse of some dead and forgotten clime,

So different is it from the homely berth

Of any other spot upon our earth.

It may prove interesting to compare the rest of my poetic text with the original. I think you will be surprised at how little had to be changed to fit this classical form.

Chapter one has previously appeared on the internet as an e-mail, and Bruce Bozarth is now reprinting the first three chapters as they appeared in ERBapa. I hope you will find some enjoyment in my efforts.

David A. Adams (Nkima)

Chapter 1
On The Arizona Hills

I am an old man; my age beyond score.

Possibly a hundred, possibly more

Extend these years, yet I cannot tell when,

For I have never aged as other men;

Nor do I recall any childhood

With fond delights as happy mortals should.

So far as I can measure in my ken,

A man of thirty I have always been,

Appearing today as I did ago;

Yet I feel that even I cannot go

On forever; some day I shall overrun

Death from which there is no resurrection.

I know not why I fear that death arrive,

I who have died twice and am still alive;

Yet I have the same horror of the grave

As one who has never entered that cave,

And for this terror of death's last decree,

I'm so convinced of my mortality.

And since life is really transitory

I have determined to write the story

Of interesting periods my life

Has shown and outlast death in afterlife.

I cannot explain the phenomena;

I can only set down here the drama

Of an simple soldier of fortune; this

Chronicle of strange metamorphosis

That befell me as my dead body lay

Sequestered deep in Arizona clay.

I have never told this tale from the crypt,

Nor shall mortal man see this manuscript

Until I have passed for eternity.

I know that an average philosophy

Will not believe what it cannot grasp. We'd

Rather not purpose being pilloried

By the public, the pulpit, and the press --

Held up as a liar as we express

Simple truths no human can validate

Which some day science will substantiate.

Possibly suggestions I gained on Mars

And the knowledge set down from distant stars

In this chronicle, will provide the keys --

Give understanding of the mysteries

Of our sister planet, once fantasy,

Now all in all sheer history to me.

My name is John Carter; best known as a

Captain Jack Carter of Virginia.

At the close of the Civil War I found

Myself possessed of Confederate ground,

Great wealth, and a cavalry commission

In an army bowed in deep submission;

The servant of a vanished state, her mouth

Closed like the hopes of my beloved South.

Masterless, penniless; my only course

Of livelihood, fighting, gone, my recourse

To work my way southwest and there refold

My fallen fortunes in a search for gold.

I spent nearly a year prospecting, sir,

In company with a dear officer,

Captain James K. Powell of Richmond town.

In good time we were blessed with fortune's crown,

For late in the winter of '65,

After many hardships we did survive

To locate the most remarkable chain,

A mountain with a gold-bearing quartz vein,

A sourdough's dream in a vast frontier.

Powell, who was a mining engineer,

Stated we had uncovered a million

In three months setting of the desert sun.

As our equipment was extremely crude

We next decided that one of us should

Return to purchase more machinery

And gain sufficient force to guarantee

A successful digging as we had planned.

As Powell was familiar with the land,

Well as mechanical requirements,

We determined that it would make most sense

For him to make the trip. It was agreed

I was to hold our claim against misdeed,

The possibility of its being

Jumped by some prospector out wandering.

Powell and I packed his provisions nigh

Two of our burros, and bidding good-bye

He mounted his horse, down toward the valley,

Across which led the first stage of his journey.

The morning of his departure was clear,

Like all Arizona mornings appear;

I could see him and his little beasts glide,

Picking their way down the steep mountainside

And all during the morning I would catch

Occasional glimpses as they would scratch

A hog back or reach a level plateau.

At about three he entered the shadow

Of the range far on the opposite side.

Some time later as I casually spied

Across the valley, I saw three dots wend

Near the same place I had last seen my friend.

I am not given to the anxious spell,

But the more I imagined all was well

With Powell, telling myself that the raid

Of ever closing specks of light and shade

I had seen on his trail were antelope,

The less I was able to gather hope.

Since we had entered the territory

We had not seen the hostile Apache;

So, careless of vain allegories,

We were wont to ridicule the stories

Of the great numbers of these marauders

Supposed to haunt high trails bent on slaughters,

Taking tolls in lives and torture such as

All men who fell into their fierce clutches.

Powell, I knew, was well armed and, further,

An experienced Indian fighter;

But I too had lived and fought hitherto

Among the Sioux in the North, and I knew

His chances were small against a party

Of shrewd trailing Apaches. Finally

I could endure the suspense no longer,

And, arming myself with Colt revolver

And a carbine, two belts of cartridge force

About me and catching my saddle horse,

Started down the trail where Powell was bound.

As soon as I reached certain level ground

I urged my mount into a canter there

And continued where the going was fair,

Until, close upon dusk, I discovered the bend

Where other deep tracks joined those of my friend.

Three unshod ponies left the ground well-scarred,

For the ponies had been galloping hard.

I followed rapidly until darkness

Shutting down, I awaited the progress

Of the rising of the moon, planning this case,

The question of the wisdom of my chase.

Perhaps I had conjured up dangers nearby,

Like some nervous old housewife, and when I

Should catch up with Powell would get a laugh.

Not over-sensitive, my better half

Follows duty, wherever it may lead,

A close fetish with me with every deed,

Accounting for the honors bestowed upon me

And decorations by republics three,

Friendships with emperors and lesser kings

In whose service my red sword nobly sings.

At last the moon was sufficiently bright

For me to proceed into this dread night.

I followed the trail at a fast walk roll;

At a trot 'til I reached the water hole.

I came upon the spot unexpectedly,

Finding it entirely deserted entirely;

No signs of it occupied as a camp.

I noted many deep tracks in the damp

Earth of the pursuing horsemen, for such

I was convinced they must be, inasmuch

They continued hard after Powell's steed

And always at his own rate of speed.

Positive the trailers were Apaches

Who wished to capture Powell alive, seize

Him for the fiendish pleasure of torture,

I urged my horse at dangerous measure,

Hoping against hope that I would catch

With the red rascals before the attack.

Speculation was suddenly cut short

By the sickening sound of a report

Far ahead of me. I knew that Powell

Would need me now if ever I could tell,

And I urged my horse to his topmost scale

Up the narrow and rugged mountain trail.

I forged ahead perhaps a mile or more

Without hearing further sounds, when the floor

Suddenly debouched onto fields of grass,

A plateau near the summit of the pass.

I passed through a rough, overhanging stand

Just before entering this table land,

And sights which met my eyes upon this way

Filled me with consternation and dismay.

The little stretch of level land was white

With Indian tepees in cold, pale moonlight,

Half a thousand red warriors clustered 'round

Some object near the center of that ground.

Attention so riveted to this place,

Unnoticed, I simply could have turned face

Into the dark recesses of the scree

And made my escape with perfect safety.

The fact that this did not occur to me

Removes any slight possibility

Of heroism to which this story

Might, I guess, otherwise entitle me.

I do not believe I'm made of the stuff

Which constitutes heroes, for in all rough

Hundreds of times that my most willing breath

Has gladly placed me face to face with death,

I cannot recall a single combat

Where any alternative step to that

I took occurred 'til many hours past.

My inner mind is evidently cast

That I'm forced upon the path of duty

Without tiresome mental third degree.

I've never regretted this mystery:

Cowardice is not optional with me.

Since Powell was the center of the show,

Thought preceding action I do not know,

But within an instant from the moment

The horrendous scene became evident

I was charging with blazing revolvers

Down upon the army of warriors,

Whooping like a whole band of mavericks.

I could not have pursued better tactics,

For the red men, swayed by sudden surprise

Of not less than a regiment in size,

Turned and fast fled in every direction

For bows, arrows, and rifle collection.

The view of hurried routing and rampage

Filled me with apprehension and with rage.

'Neath clear rays of the Arizona moon

Lay poor Powell, his body fairly strewn

With hostile arrows of the wicked braves.

His kingdom was now with the dead and graves,

And yet I would have saved his bare body

From mutilation by the Apache

As quickly as I would have saved the breath

Of the faithful young man himself from death.

Riding close, I reached down from the saddle,

And grasping his cartridge belt for a handle

Drew him across the withers of my mount.

A backward glance convinced that an account

By the way I had come would be more slow

Than to continue across the plateau,

So, putting spurs to my poor, plunging beast,

I made a mad dash to be fair released

Through a pass which I had already scanned

On the farther side of the table land.

The Indians had by this time construed

That I was alone, and I was pursued

By imprecations, arrow, and rifle ball.

The fact that it is difficult to squall

Anything but futile imprecations

Accurately by moonlight revelations,

That they were upset by the impudent,

Unexpected manner of my advent,

And that I moved quickly through those defiles

Saved me from the various projectiles

And permitted me to reach the shadows

Of the surrounding peaks before my foes

Could organize an orderly pursuit.

My free horse traveled an unguided route

As I had less knowledge of the only

Locus of the trail to the pass than he,

And thus he entered a defile strange

Which led to the summit of the vast range

And not to the pass which certain degree

Would carry me safely to the valley.

It is to this fact or curious fable

I owe my life and the remarkable

Experiences and adventures flow

Which befell me the ten years to follow.

My first knowledge I was on the wrong trail

Came when I heard the yells of travail

As the pursuing savages lost the way,

Growing fainter and fainter, far away.

I knew then that they had passed the left ledge,

The jagged rock formation at the edge

Of the plateau, right of which my horse well

Had borne me and the body of Powell.

I drew rein on a level promontory

Overlooking the trail, and saw the party

Of pursuing savages quickly streak

Around the point of a neighboring peak.

I knew the Indians would soon attest

They were on the wrong trail and that the quest

For me would be renewed on the right tack

As soon as they located my clear track.

I had gone but a short distance away

When what seemed to be an excellent way

Around the face of a high cliff outspread.

The trail was level and quite broad and led

In the main direction of my retreat.

The cliff arose for several hundred feet

On my right, and on my left was a stop

Of a nearly perpendicular drop

To the bottom of a rocky ravine.

I had followed this trail for perhaps a lean

Hundred yards when a sudden sharp turn gave

Way to the mouth of a most spacious cave.

The opening was about four feet high

And at this grave portal the trail ran dry.

Now morning, with the customary lack

Of dawn which is the usual, startling tack

In Arizona mountains, it had fast

Become daylight without creeping forecast.

I laid Powell down in agitation,

But my painstaking examination

Failed to reveal the man he once had been.

I forced water from my canteen between

His dead lips, bathed his face and rubbed his hands,

Working over him with faithful demands

For the most of an hour in the dread

Face of the fact I knew him to be dead.

I was very fond of Powell; my friend

Was thoroughly a man to recommend,

A polished southern gentleman, in brief,

It was with a feeling of deepest grief

That I finally gave up my station:

Crude endeavors at resuscitation.

Leaving poor Powell's body where it lay,

I crept into the cave to make survey.

I found a large chamber there most complete

In diameter of a hundred feet

And thirty or forty feet in height;

A smooth and well-worn floor, and all the right

Evidences that the cave had, at some

Remote period, been someone's home.

The back of the cave was lost in shadow;

I could not distinguish whether or no

Other spacious apartments opened there.

As I was continuing this affair

I commenced to feel a fair drowsiness

Creeping over me which just might express

The drain of my long and strenuous ride,

And the reaction from the homicide

And relentless pursuit. I felt secure

In my new location as I was sure

That one man could easily guarantee

The trail to the cave against an army.

Soon so drowsy I could scarcely disown

The strong desire to throw myself down

On the cave floor for a few moments' rest,

But I knew the feeling must be repressed

As it would mean certain death at the hands

Of my red friends, those closing savage bands.

With a strong effort I started to flee

The dire cave only to reel drunkenly

Against a wall, feeling for an open door;

And from there I slipped prone upon the floor.

Chapter II
The Escape of the Dead

A pure sense of delicious dreaminess

Overcame me, my muscles so helpless,

I was at the juncture of being downed

By my desire to sleep when the sound

Of approaching horses reached my keen ears.

I attempted to rise to meet my fears

But was horrified to discover chill

Limbs that refused to respond to my will.

Thoroughly awake, I was overthrown

To move a muscle as though turned to stone.

It was then, for the first time, that I gave

Notice a slight vapor filling the cave.

It was an extremely tenuous mist

That just seemed noticeably to subsist

Near the opening which led to daylight.

There also came to my nostrils a slight

Pungent odor, and I could only assess

I'd been subdued by some poisonous gas,

But why I should retain my clearest mind

Yet be immobile I could not unwind.

Facing the opening in the cave's veil,

I lay in sight of the short stretch of trail

Between the cave and the turn of the cliff.

The noise of the horses had ceased as if

The Indians were creeping stealthily

Upon their cornered quarry along the

Little ledge which led to my living tomb.

I remember that I hoped that my doom

Would come quickly as I did not relish

The thought of the frightful things they might dish-

Out to me if the spirit prompted them.

I had not long to wait before the problem

Of stealthy sounds apprised me of their trace,

And then a war-bonneted, paint-streaked face

Was thrust cautiously around the incline

Of the cliff, and savage eyes looked into mine.

That he could see me in the cave's dim light

I was sure for the early sun was bright,

Falling upon me through the opening.

The stunned fellow, instead of approaching,

Merely stood and stared; his eyes bulging wide

And his jaw dropped. And then another pied,

Savage face appeared, and a third and fourth

And fifth, craning their curious heads forth

Over the shoulders of their fellow's wedge

They could not pass upon the narrow ledge.

Each face was the picture of awe and fear,

But for what reason did not then appear,

Nor did I learn until ten years later.

That there were still other braves far greater

Than those who observed me was apparent

>From the fact that leaders passed back comment,

Fearful, whispered words to those standing 'round.

Suddenly a low, distinct moaning sound

Issued from the recesses of the cave

Behind me, and, as the tone reached each brave,

They turned and fled in panic-stricken fright.

So frantic were their mad efforts in flight

From the unseen thing behind me that one

Unfortunate was hurled headlong, spun

To the rocks below. Wild cries made chime,

Echoes in the canyon for a short time,

And then all was as still as it once had been.

The frightening sound did not come again,

But it was sufficient enough to start

Speculation on possible black art

Horror which lurked in shadows at my back.

Fear is a relative term and so slack

I can only measure my feelings by

Previous positions of danger I

Have known and by those that I have passed through since;

But I can say without shame of conscience

That if the sensations that did appear

During the next few minutes were of fear,

May God help the coward in his torment;

For cowardice is its own punishment.

To be held paralyzed, a sheer stranger

Toward some horrible and unknown danger

From the very sound of which guaranteed

Apache warriors turn in wild stampede,

As a flock of tense sheep would madly flee

From a pack of ravening wolves, seems to me

The last word in fearsome predicaments

For a man whose profession represents

Fighting for his life against war-bent hounds.

Several times I thought I heard more faint sounds

As of somebody moving cautiously,

But even these ceased eventually,

And I was left to the contemplation

Of my position without sensation.

I could but vaguely conjecture the key

Of my paralysis, and my only

Hope lay in that it might pass suddenly

As it's strange course had fallen upon me.

Late that afternoon my horse under strain,

Which had been standing by with dragging rein

Before the cave,walked slowly down the trail,

On a needed food and water detail,

And I was alone with my mystery,

An unknown comrade and the dead body

Of my friend, which lay within my vision

Where I had placed it in desolation.

From then until possibly midnight's tread

All was silence, the silence of the dead;

Then, suddenly, an awful morning moan

Broke upon my startled ears, and with that groan

From the shadows the sound of a moving thing,

As of dry, dead leaves faintly rustling.

The shock to my already much decreased

System was terrible to say the least,

And with a superhuman effort true

I strove to break my awful bonds anew.

It was an effort of the mind and will,

Not muscular, for I could not instill

Even so much as my little finger,

But none the less strong was my endeavor.

And then something gave, a momentary

Nausea, a sharp click of an airy

Snapping of a steel wire, and I stood

Against the wall of the cave where I could

Realize face to face my unknown foe.

Then the moonlight flooded the cave aglow,

And there before me lay my own body

As it had been lying all these hours free,

Empty eyes staring as though I were drowned,

The hands resting limply upon the ground.

I looked first at my lifeless clay's portent,

Then down at myself in bewilderment;

For there I lay clothed upon the cave's floor,

Apart as a man who had passed death's door,

And yet here I stood upon this same earth

Naked as at the minute of my birth.

The transition had been so sudden, so

Unexpected that it let me to grow

Apace forgetful of no more than this:

The fact of my strange metamorphosis.

My first thought was, is this then my death!

Have I indeed taken my final breath,

Passed o'er into that other life for aye!

But I could not well believe this, as I

Could feel my heart pounding against my chest

From the exertion of my efforts pressed

To release me from the anaesthesis

Which had held me fast in paralysis.

My breath came in quick, short gasps, cold sweat's plea

Stood out from every pore of my body,

And the experiment of pinching hath

The fact I was much more than a wraith.

Again was I suddenly recalled to

My immediate surroundings all through

A dark repetition of the weird moan

Which came from the depths of the cave's unknown.

Naked and unarmed, I had not a plea

To face the unseen thing which menaced me.

Revolvers strapped to my lifeless body

Which, for some unfathomable key,

I could not bring myself to touch again.

My carbine in boot, strapped past this strange plane,

My horse wandered off, I was left to fight

Without means of defense, a sorry plight.

My only alternative I surmised

Was flight; my decision was crystallized

By a recurrence of the rustling progress

From the thing which now seemed, in the darkness

To my distorted imagination,

To be creeping with acceleration.

Unable to resist the temptation

To escape, I leaped for my salvation

Through the opening into the starlight

Of a clear, blazing Arizona night.

The crisp, fresh mountain air outside the cave

Acted as an sudden tonic which gave

Me new life and new courage coursed through me.

Pausing upon the ledge of recovery

I upbraided myself for extension

Of such unwarranted apprehension.

I reasoned with myself that I had lain

Helpless for many hours under strain,

Yet nothing came of the adversity,

And my better judgment then convinced me

That even strange noises most likely tend

From things which all natural causes send;

The conformation of the cave was blurred

That a slight breeze had caused the sounds I heard.

I decided to scrutinize my cure.

Lifting my head to fill my lungs with pure,

Invigorating night air to the full,

I saw far below me the beautiful

Vista of rocky gorge, and the level,

Wrought by the moonlight into a miracle

Of soft splendor and wondrous enchantment.

Few western wonders are more eloquent

Than an Arizona moonlit landscape;

The silvered mountains in the distance drape

Strange lights and shadows upon hog back

And arroyo, and the grotesque night track

Of the stiff, yet beautiful cacti form

A picture at once enchanting and warm;

As though one were catching for the first time

A glimpse of some dead and forgotten clime,

So different is it from the homely berth

Of any other spot upon our earth.

I stood hushed, thus meditating, and then

Turned my gaze from the land to the heaven

Where the myriad stars formed their plunder,

A gorgeous canopy for the wonder

Of the earthly scene. My attention far

Quickly riveted to a large red star

Close to the distant horizon. As I

Gazed upon it I felt a spell ally

Of overpowering fascination--

It was Mars, the god of war's location,

And for me, the simple fighting man,

It had always been my strong talisman.

As I gazed at it on that far-gone night

It seemed to call across the void and height,

To lure me to it, to draw me as one

Lodestone attracts a fragment of iron.

My longing past the power to oppose;

I closed my eyes, stretched out my arms and chose

The god of my vocation and was brought,

Quickly drawn with the suddenness of thought

Through the trackless immensity of space.

There was an instant of extreme cold apace,

Then utter darkness.

Chapter III
My Advent on Mars

I opened my eyes

On a strange and weird landscape. The surmise

That I was on Mars I had to profess

With my sanity and my wakefulness.

I was not asleep, no mere fantasy;

My inner consciousness told me plainly

I was upon Mars as your conscious mind

Tells you that you are upon Earth aligned.

You do not question the fact; nor did I.

I found myself lying to occupy

A soft bed of yellowish, mosslike plant

Which stretched around me and seemed to enchant

The view for interminable miles.

I was lying within deep defiles

Along the outer verge of which I could still

Distinguish the rugged crests of low hills.

It was midday, the sun was shining full

Upon me and the heat was powerful

Upon my naked body, yet never

More than would have been under similar

Conditions on an Arizona desert.

Here and there slight outcroppings of inert

Quartz-bearing rock glistened in the sunlight,

And a hundred yards to my left the sight

Of a walled enclosure four feet in height.

No water, and no other growth at this site

Than the spongy moss was in evidence,

And as I had a mighty thirst to quench,

I determined explore, come the worst.

Springing to my feet I received my first

Martian surprise, for the push, the world

Would have left me standing upright, hurled

Me three yards into the air with a bound.

I alighted softly upon the ground,

However, without the least shock or jar.

Now commenced a series of most bizarre

Events which even then seemed ludicrous.

I relearned walking in this dangerous,

Land as the exertion which carried me

Upon Earth easily and quite safely

Played new, strange antics in this Martian state.

Instead of progressing in a sedate

Sane manner, my attempts to walk were flops,

Resulting in an assortment of hops

Which took me clear of the ground several feet

And landed me sprawling upon my seat

At the end of each second or third bound.

My muscles, perfectly attuned to ground

And gravity on Earth, played sheer havoc

With me attempting the first time to walk

And cope with the lesser gravitation

And air pressure in this situation.

I was resolved, however, to explore

The low structure which was the only shore

Of habitation in sight, and so I

Hit upon an old plan to ratify

First principles in locomotion, by

Creeping. I did fairly well at this try

And in a few moments had reached the small,

Chest-high enclosure's encircling wall.

There appeared to be no windows or door

Upon the side nearest me, but the four-

Foot wall permitted me to peer within,

As I cautiously gained my feet again,

To gaze upon the strangest mystery

It had ever been given me to see.

The enclosure's roof was of solid glass

About four or five inches, a thick mass,

And several hundred large eggs lay in sight,

All perfectly round, clean, and snowy white.

Uniform in size, they seemed to appear

Two and one-half feet in diameter.

The five or six already hatched all spat,

And the grotesque caricatures which sat

Blinking in the sun were society

To cause me to doubt my plain sanity.

They seemed mostly head, with little scrawny

Bodies, long necks, six-legged in degree,

Or, as I afterward learned, two legs free

And two arms, with intermediary

Pair of limbs which could be employed at will

Either as arms or legs most versatile.

At the extreme sides of their heads, thereby

A trifle above center, set each eye

Which protruded with such a special knack

They could be directed forward or back

Or independently of each other,

Thus permitting this queer beast to confer

In any direction, or two instead,

Without the demand of turning the head.

The ears, which were slightly above the eyes

And closer together, were cup-shaped spies,

Small antennae, protruding not more than

Than a mere inch on these young specimen.

Their noses were but longitudinal

Slits in the center of their faces, small

Grooves set midway between their mouths and ears.

Upon their slight bodies no hair appears,

So smooth they seem to glow like tiny spheres.

Light yellowish-green color domineers

The adults, as I was to quite soon learn,

Deepening to an olive green concern

Darker in the male than in the female.

Further, the heads of the adults avail

Not the odd, greater proportion among

Fair bodies as in the case of the young.

The iris of the eyes is blood red, stark

As in Albinos, while the pupil's dark.

The eyeball itself is of white utmost,

As are the teeth. These latter add a most

Ferocious aspect serving to enhance

A fearsome and terrible countenance,

As the lower tusks curve upward to keen

Points which end about where the eyes are seen

In earthly human beings. The whiteness

Of the teeth is not ivory's brightness,

But of the snowiest and most gleaming

Of china. Against the darker beaming

Of their olive skins their tusks stand out in

A most striking manner, which determine

That these natural weapons will advance

A unique formidable appearance.

Most of these keen details I noted late,

For I had little time to speculate

On the wonders of my discovery.

The unique eggs were hatching rapidly

And as I stood watching the hideous

Little monsters break from their curious

Shells I failed to note the approach of the

Score of full-grown Martians from behind me.

Coming over the soundless, mossy bliss,

Which covers most of the Martian surface

With the exception of the frozen poles

And the more scattered cultivated shoals,

They might have captured me without a stir,

But their intentions were more sinister.

It was the rattling of accouterments

Of the foremost warrior which sped intents.

On such a little thing my life hung free,

I marveled I escaped so easily.

Had not the leader's rifle made rattle

>From its fastenings beside his saddle

In such a way as to strike hard awry

The butt of his great metal shod spear, I

Should have snuffed out without a single plea

Never knowing that death was so near me.

But the little sound caused me to arrest,

And upon me, not ten feet from my breast,

Was the point of that spear forty feet long,

Tipped with gleaming metal, and held there strong

At the side of a mounted replica

Of the little devils I'd watched with awe.

How puny and harmless was their station

Beside this terrific incarnation

Of hate, of vengeance and of death. The man

Himself, for such I may call him, nigh ran

Fully fifteen feet in height and, on Earth,

Would weigh four hundred pounds for all his worth.

He sat his mount as humans sit a horse,

Grasping the animal's barrel of course

With lower limbs, while the hands of two right

Arms held his immense spear low at the site

Of his mount; his two left arms were askance

Laterally to help preserve balance,

The thing he rode having neither bridle

Or reins of any kind to guide or call.

And his mount! How can words come to my aid!

It towered ten feet at the shoulder blade;

Four legs on either side; a broad flat tail,

Larger at the tip than at the root's flail,

Which while running it held straight out behind ;

A gaping mouth which split its head in kind

From a long, massive neck to its broad snout.

Like its master, there was no hair about,

But was of a dark slate color and the

Hide exceedingly smooth and glossy.

Its belly was white, and its legs eclipse

>From the dark slate of its shoulders and hips

To a vivid yellow cast at the feet.

The feet themselves were thick padded complete

And nailless, which had contributed to

The noiselessness of their close rendezvous,

And, in common with a multiplicity

Of legs, is a characteristic key

In the structure of all Martian fauna.

The highest type of man and the strange paw

Of one other beast, the only mammal

Existing on Mars, alone have nails full-

Formed, and absolutely I can declare

No hoofed animals in existence there.

Behind this first charging demon followed

Nineteen others, similarly endowed,

But, as I learned later, bearing rare tricks,

Individual characteristics

Peculiar to themselves; precisely so

No two of us are identical 'though

We are all cast in a similar mold.

This picture, or rather nightmare unrolled,

Which I have described at length, made but one

Certain terrible and swift impression

On me as I turned lone to meet the worst.

Unarmed and naked as I was, the first

Law of nature presented the only

Sure solution of my adversity,

And that was to leave the vicinity

Of the point of the spear. Consequently

I gave an earthly and subsequently

Superhuman leap to the apogee

Of the strange incubator mystery,

For such I had determined it must be.

My effort was crowned with a great success

Which, however, appalled me no less

Than it seemed to awe the green warrior,

For it carried me thirty feet or more

Into the air and landed me anon

A hundred feet from the attack and on

The opposite side of the enclosure.

I alighted upon the soft moss sure

And without mishap, and turning saw all

My enemies lined by the further wall.

Some were surveying me with expressions

Which I afterward learned were confessions

Of extreme astonishment; others were

Investigating the round enclosure,

Proving I had not molested their young.

They were conversing in their mother-tongue,

Gesticulating and pointing toward me.

Their discovery that I had clearly

Not harmed the little Martians, and that I

Was unarmed, must have caused them to espy

Me with less ferocity; but, as I

Learned later, the thing which did most apply

In my favor was my hurdling display.

While the Martians are immense, their bones lay

Well-formed, fitting upon a skeleton

In proportion to the gravitation

Which they must overcome by force. And still,

These men are infinitely less agile

And less powerful, in proportion to

Their weight, than an Earth man, and I pursue

That were one of them suddenly to be

Transported to Earth he could not lift free

His own weight from the ground; facts in a row,

I am convinced that he could not do so.

My feat was marvelous in this kingdom

As it would have been upon Earth, and from

Desiring to annihilate me

They suddenly saw this poor refugee

As a most wonderful discovery

To be displayed in their society.

The respite of my wild agility

Permitted me to devise plans for the

Immediate future and to note more

Closely the aspect of each warrior,

For I could not disassociate these

People in my mind from those Apaches

Who, the day past, had been pursuing me.

I noted that each was armed most boldly

With other weapons in addition to

The huge spear which I've described hitherto.

The weapon which caused me to defer an

Attempt at escape by flight began

With what was evidently a rifle

Of some description, which was no trifle,

And I felt, for some reason, they could claim

Efficiency in handling the same.

These rifles were of a white metal, wood-

Stocked, which I learned later was a good,

Light, yet intensely hard growth much prized on

Mars, an wholly unknown phenomenon

To us denizens of Earth. The metal

Of the barrel is an alloy made all

Of aluminum and steel tempered to

A hardness far exceeding steel I knew.

The weight of these rifles is negative,

And with the small caliber, explosive,

Radium projectiles which they employ,

And the length of the barrel, they destroy

At extreme ranges and deal deadly worth

From what would be unthinkable on Earth.

The theoretic effective wiles

Of this rifle is three hundred miles,

But the best they can do in actual

Service when equipped with their versatile,

Wireless finders and sighters compiles

A trifle over two hundred miles.

This is quite far enough to imbue me

With great respect for the gun's majesty,

And some telepathic force must have warned me

Against an attempt to run futily

In broad daylight from under the vile spleens

Of twenty of these death-dealing machines.

The Martians, after talking awhile,

Turned and rode away toward the defile

>From which they had come, leaving one alone

By the enclosure. When they had but known

Two hundred yards they halted, turned slowly

Their mounts, sat watching the warrior and me.

He was the one whose spear had so nearly

Transfixed me here, and was evidently

The leader of the band, as I'd portent

That they seemed to have moved to their present

Position at his order. When his force

Had come to a halt he left his strange horse,

Threw down his spear and small arms, and came 'round

The end of the incubator's low ground

Entirely unarmed, naked as I,

Except where bright ornaments may apply,

Proudly strapped upon his head, limbs, and breast.

When he had about fifty feet progressed,

He unclasped a massive, metal armlet,

And holding it toward me in the quiet

Open palm of his hand, set the grave stage

In the clearest voice, but in a language,

Needless to say, I could not understand.

He then stopped, waiting for my reply, and

Pricking up his antennae-like ears he

Cocked low his strange-looking eyes toward me.

As the silence became painful I spun

A little receptive conversation

On my own part, as I had a sure lease

He was making overtures of peace.

The throwing down of his weapons and the

Troop's exit before his advance toward me

Would have signified peaceful, lowered bars

On civil Earth, so why not, then, on Mars!

Placing my hand over my heart I bowed

Low to the Martian and gently allowed

That while I did not understand his tongue,

His actions spoke peace and friendship among

All beings that at the present moment

Were feelings most dear to my heart's intent.

Of course I might have been a babbling brook

For all the intelligence my speech took,

But the clear actions which followed my word

Stood stronger than all that I had conferred.

Stretching my hand to him, I stepped forth calm,

And took the armlet from his open palm,

Clasping it above my elbow; then I

Smiled at him and stood waiting for reply.

His wide mouth spread into a gracious smile,

And locking one mid arm in mine with style,

We turned abreast and walked back toward his steed.

As he motioned his warriors to proceed.

They started toward us on a wild run,

But were checked to come forward with reason.

Evidently he feared were I to be

Really frightened again I might then flee

Verily out of the landscape again.

He exchanged a few fair words with his men,

Motioned to me that I would share a ride

With one of them, then mounted at our side.

The fellow designated reached down two

Or three hands and lifted me up onto

The glossy back of his mount, where I hung

On as best I could by the belts that swung

Across their great shoulders, those gaudy accents

Which held the Martian's weapons and ornaments.

The entire cavalcade galloped away

Toward the range of hills in the distant day.


First printed in ERB-APA #60 (WINTER 1999)