SHOOTING THE CHUTES--AND AFTER
Through the fog I felt my way along by means of my compass. I no longer heard
the bears, nor did I encounter one within the fog.
Experience has since taught me that these great beasts are as terror-stricken
by this phenomenon as a landsman by a fog at sea, and that no sooner does a fog
envelop them than they make the best of their way to lower levels and a clear
atmosphere. It was well for me that this was true.
I felt very sad and lonely as I crawled along the difficult footing. My own
predicament weighed less heavily upon me than the loss of Perry, for I loved the
That I should ever win the opposite slopes of the range I began to doubt, for
though I am naturally sanguine, I imagine that the bereavement which had
befallen me had cast such a gloom over my spirits that I could see no slightest
ray of hope for the future.
Then, too, the blighting, gray oblivion of the cold, damp clouds through
which I wandered was distressing. Hope thrives best in sunlight, and I am sure
that it does not thrive at all in a fog.
But the instinct of self-preservation is stronger than hope. It thrives,
fortunately, upon nothing. It takes root upon the brink of the grave, and
blossoms in the jaws of death. Now it flourished bravely upon the breast of dead
hope, and urged me onward and upward in a stern endeavor to justify its
As I advanced the fog became denser. I could see nothing beyond my nose. Even
the snow and ice I trod were invisible.
I could not see below the breast of my bearskin coat. I seemed to be floating
in a sea of vapor.
To go forward over a dangerous glacier under such conditions was little short
of madness; but I could not have stopped going had I known positively that death
lay two paces before my nose. In the first place, it was too cold to stop, and
in the second, I should have gone mad but for the excitement of the perils that
beset each forward step.
For some time the ground had been rougher and steeper, until I had been
forced to scale a considerable height that had carried me from the glacier
entirely. I was sure from my compass that I was following the right general
direction, and so I kept on.
Once more the ground was level. From the wind that blew about me I guessed
that I must be upon some ex- posed peak of ridge.
And then quite suddenly I stepped out into space. Wildly I turned and
clutched at the ground that had slipped from beneath my feet.
Only a smooth, icy surface was there. I found nothing to clutch or stay my
fall, and a moment later so great was my speed that nothing could have stayed
As suddenly as I had pitched into space, with equal suddenness did I emerge
from the fog, out of which I shot like a projectile from a cannon into clear
daylight. My speed was so great that I could see nothing about me but a blurred
and indistinct sheet of smooth and frozen snow, that rushed past me with
I must have slid downward thousands of feet before the steep incline curved
gently on to a broad, smooth, snow-covered plateau. Across this I hurtled with
slowly diminishing velocity, until at last objects about me began to take
Far ahead, miles and miles away, I saw a great valley and mighty woods, and
beyond these a broad expanse of water. In the nearer foreground I discerned a
small, dark blob of color upon the shimmering whiteness of the snow.
"A bear," thought I, and thanked the instinct that had impelled me
to cling tenaciously to my rifle during the moments of my awful tumble.
At the rate I was going it would be but a moment before I should be quite
abreast the thing; nor was it long before I came to a sudden stop in soft snow,
upon which the sun was shining, not twenty paces from the object of my most
It was standing upon its hind legs waiting for me. As I scrambled to my feet
to meet it, I dropped my gun in the snow and doubled up with laughter.
It was Perry.
The expression upon his face, combined with the relief I felt at seeing him
again safe and sound, was too much for my overwrought nerves.
"David!" be cried. "David, my boy! God has been good to an old
man. He has answered my prayer."
It seems that Perry in his mad flight had plunged over the brink at about the
same point as that at which I had stepped over it a short time later. Chance had
done for us what long periods of rational labor had failed to accomplish.
We had crossed the divide. We were upon the side of the Mountains of the
Clouds that we had for so long been attempting to reach.
We looked about. Below us were green trees and warm jungles. In the distance
was a great sea.
"The Lural Az," I said, pointing toward its blue-green surface.
Somehow--the gods alone can explain it--Perry, too, had clung to his rifle
during his mad descent of the icy slope. For that there was cause for great
Neither of us was worse for his experience, so after shaking the snow from
our clothing, we set off at a great rate down toward the warmth and comfort of
the forest and the jungle.
The going was easy by comparison with the awful obstacles we had had to
encounter upon the opposite side of the divide. There were beasts, of course,
but we came through safely.
Before we halted to eat or rest, we stood beside a little mountain brook
beneath the wondrous trees of the primeval forest in an atmosphere of warmth and
com- fort. It reminded me of an early June day in the Maine Woods.
We fell to work with our short axes and cut enough small trees to build a
rude protection from the fiercer beasts. Then we lay down to sleep.
How long we slept I do not know. Perry says that inasmuch as there is no
means of measuring time within Pellucidar, there can be no such thing as time
here, and that we may have slept an outer earthly year, or we may have slept but
But this I know. We had stuck the ends of some of the saplings into the
ground in the building of our shelter, first stripping the leaves and branches
from them, and when we awoke we found that many of them had thrust forth
Personally, I think that we slept at least a month; but who may say? The sun
marked midday when we closed our eyes; it was still in the same position when we
opened them; nor had it varied a hair's breadth in the interim.
It is most baffling, this question of elapsed time within Pellucidar.
Anyhow, I was famished when we awoke. I think that it was the pangs of hunger
that awoke me. Ptarmigan and wild boar fell before my revolver within a dozen
moments of my awakening. Perry soon had a roaring fire blazing by the brink of
the little stream.
It was a good and delicious meal we made. Though we did not eat the entire
boar, we made a very large hole in him, while the ptarmigan was but a mouthful.
Having satisfied our hunger, we determined to set forth at once in search of
Anoroc and my old friend, Ja the Mezop. We each thought that by following the
little stream downward, we should come upon the large river which Ja had told me
emptied into the Lural Az opposite his island.
We did so; nor were we disappointed, for at last after a pleasant
journey--and what journey would not be pleasant after the hardships we had
endured among the peaks of the Mountains of the Clouds--we came upon a broad
flood that rushed majestically onward in the direction of the great sea we had
seen from the snowy slopes of the mountains.
For three long marches we followed the left bank of the growing river, until
at last we saw it roll its mighty volume into the vast waters of the sea. Far
out across the rippling ocean we described three islands. The one to the left
must be Anoroc.
At last we had come close to a solution of our problem --the road to Sari.
But how to reach the islands was now the foremost question in our minds. We
must build a canoe.
Perry is a most resourceful man. He has an axiom which carries the
thought-kernel that what man has done, man can do, and it doesn't cut any figure
with Perry whether a fellow knows how to do it or not.
He set out to make gunpowder once, shortly after our escape from Phutra and
at the beginning of the con- federation of the wild tribes of Pellucidar. He
said that some one, without any knowledge of the fact that such a thing might be
concocted, had once stumbled upon it by accident, and so he couldn't see why a
fellow who knew all about powder except how to make it couldn't do as well.
He worked mighty hard mixing all sorts of things together, until finally he
evolved a substance that looked like powder. He had been very proud of the
stuff, and had gone about the village of the Sarians exhibiting it to every one
who would listen to him, and explaining what its purpose was and what terrific
havoc it would work, until finally the natives became so terrified at the stuff
that they wouldn't come within a rod of Perry and his invention.
Finally, I suggested that we experiment with it and see what it would do, so
Perry built a fire, after placing the powder at a safe distance, and then
touched a glowing ember to a minute particle of the deadly explosive. It
extinguished the ember.
Repeated experiments with it determined me that in searching for a high
explosive, Perry had stumbled upon a fire-extinguisher that would have made his
fortune for him back in our own world.
So now he set himself to work to build a scientific canoe. I had suggested
that we construct a dugout, but Perry convinced me that we must build something
more in keeping with our positions of supermen in this world of the Stone Age.
"We must impress these natives with our superiority," he explained.
"You must not forget, David, that you are emperor of Pellucidar. As such
you may not with dignity approach the shores of a foreign power in so crude a
vessel as a dugout."
I pointed out to Perry that it wasn't much more in- congruous for the emperor
to cruise in a canoe, than it was for the prime minister to attempt to build one
with his own hands.
He had to smile at that; but in extenuation of his act he assured me that it
was quite customary for prime ministers to give their personal attention to the
building of imperial navies; "and this," he said, "is the
imperial navy of his Serene Highness, David I, Emperor of the Federated Kingdoms
I grinned; but Perry was quite serious about it. It had always seemed rather
more or less of a joke to me that I should be addressed as majesty and all the
rest of it. Yet my imperial power and dignity had been a very real thing during
my brief reign.
Twenty tribes had joined the federation, and their chiefs had sworn eternal
fealty to one another and to me. Among them were many powerful though savage
nations. Their chiefs we had made kings; their tribal lands kingdoms.
We had armed them with bows and arrows and swords, in addition to their own
more primitive weapons. I had trained them in military discipline and in so much
of the art of war as I had gleaned from extensive reading of the campaigns of
Napoleon, Von Moltke, Grant, and the ancients.
We had marked out as best we could natural boundaries dividing the various
kingdoms. We had warned tribes beyond these boundaries that they must not
trespass, and we had marched against and severely punished those who had.
We had met and defeated the Mahars and the Sagoths. In short, we had
demonstrated our rights to empire, and very rapidly were we being recognized and
heralded abroad when my departure for the outer world and Hooja's treachery had
set us back.
But now I had returned. The work that fate had undone must be done again, and
though I must need smile at my imperial honors, I none the less felt the weight
of duty and obligation that rested upon my shoulders.
Slowly the imperial navy progressed toward completion. She was a wondrous
craft, but I had my doubts about her. When I voiced them to Perry, he reminded
me gently that my people for many generations had been mine-owners, not
ship-builders, and consequently I couldn't be expected to know much about the
I was minded to inquire into his hereditary fitness to design battleships;
but inasmuch as I already knew that his father had been a minister in a
back-woods village far from the coast, I hesitated lest I offend the dear old
He was immensely serious about his work, and I must admit that in so far as
appearances went he did extremely well with the meager tools and assistance at
his command. We had only two short axes and our hunting- knives; yet with these
we hewed trees, split them into planks, surfaced and fitted them.
The "navy" was some forty feet in length by ten feet beam. Her
sides were quite straight and fully ten feet high--"for the purpose,"
explained Perry, "of adding dignity to her appearance and rendering it less
easy for an enemy to board her."
As a matter of fact, I knew that he had had in mind the safety of her crew
under javelin-fire--the lofty sides made an admirable shelter. Inside she
reminded me of nothing so much as a floating trench. There was also some slight
analogy to a huge coffin.
Her prow sloped sharply backward from the water- line--quite like a line of
battleship. Perry had designed her more for moral effect upon an enemy, I think,
than for any real harm she might inflict, and so those parts which were to show
were the most imposing.
Below the water-line she was practically non-existent. She should have had
considerable draft; but, as the enemy couldn't have seen it, Perry decided to do
away with it, and so made her flat-bottomed. It was this that caused my doubts
There was another little idiosyncrasy of design that escaped us both until
she was about ready to launch-- there was no method of propulsion. Her sides
were far too high to permit the use of sweeps, and when Perry suggested that we
pole her, I remonstrated on the grounds that it would be a most undignified and
awkward manner of sweeping down upon the foe, even if we could find or wield
poles that would reach to the bottom of the ocean.
Finally I suggested that we convert her into a sailing vessel. When once the
idea took hold Perry was most enthusiastic about it, and nothing would do but a
four-masted, full-rigged ship.
Again I tried to dissuade him, but he was simply crazy over the psychological
effect which the appearance of this strange and mighty craft would have upon the
natives of Pellucidar. So we rigged her with thin hides for sails and dried gut
Neither of us knew much about sailing a full-rigged ship; but that didn't
worry me a great deal, for I was confident that we should never be called upon
to do so, and as the day of launching approached I was positive of it.
We had built her upon a low bank of the river close to where it emptied into
the sea, and just above high tide. Her keel we had laid upon several rollers cut
from small trees, the ends of the rollers in turn resting upon parallel tracks
of long saplings. Her stern was toward the water.
A few hours before we were ready to launch her she made quite an imposing
picture, for Perry had insisted upon setting every shred of "canvas."
I told him that I didn't know much about it, but I was sure that at launching
the hull only should have been completed, every- thing else being completed
after she had floated safely.
At the last minute there was some delay while we sought a name for her. I
wanted her christened the Perry in honor both of her designer and that other
great naval genius of another world, Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, of the United
States Navy. But Perry was too modest; he wouldn't hear of it.
We finally decided to establish a system in the naming of the fleet.
Battle-ships of the first-class should bear the names of kingdoms of the
federation; armored cruisers the names of kings; cruisers the names of cities,
and so on down the line. Therefore, we decided to name the first battle-ship
Sari, after the first of the federated kingdoms.
The launching of the Sari proved easier than I contemplated. Perry wanted me
to get in and break something over the bow as she floated out upon the bosom of
the river, but I told him that I should feel safer on dry land until I saw which
side up the Sari would float.
I could see by the expression of the old man's face that my words had hurt
him; but I noticed that he didn't offer to get in himself, and so I felt less
contrition than I might otherwise.
When we cut the ropes and removed the blocks that held the Sari in place she
started for the water with a lunge. Before she hit it she was going at a
reckless speed, for we had laid our tracks quite down to the water, greased
them, and at intervals placed rollers all ready to receive the ship as she moved
forward with stately dignity. But there was no dignity in the Sari.
When she touched the surface of the river she must have been going twenty or
thirty miles an hour. Her momentum carried her well out into the stream, until
she came to a sudden halt at the end of the long line which we had had the
foresight to attach to her bow and fasten to a large tree upon the bank.
The moment her progress was checked she promptly capsized. Perry was
overwhelmed. I didn't upbraid him, nor remind him that I had "told him
His grief was so genuine and so apparent that I didn't have the heart to
reproach him, even were I inclined to that particular sort of meanness.
"Come, come, old man!" I cried. "It's not as bad as it looks.
Give me a hand with this rope, and we'll drag her up as far as we can; and then
when the tide goes out we'll try another scheme. I think we can make a go of her
Well, we managed to get her up into shallow water. When the tide receded she
lay there on her side in the mud, quite a pitiable object for the premier
battle-ship of a world--"the terror of the seas" was the way Perry had
occasionally described her.
We had to work fast; but before the tide came in again we had stripped her of
her sails and masts, righted her, and filled her about a quarter full of rock
ballast. If she didn't stick too fast in the mud I was sure that she would float
this time right side up.
I can tell you that it was with palpitating hearts that we sat upon the
river-bank and watched that tide come slowly in. The tides of Pellucidar don't
amount to much by comparison with our higher tides of the outer world, but I
knew that it ought to prove ample to float the Sari.
Nor was I mistaken. Finally we had the satisfaction of seeing the vessel rise
out of the mud and float slowly upstream with the tide. As the water rose we
pulled her in quite close to the bank and clambered aboard.
She rested safely now upon an even keel; nor did she leak, for she was well
calked with fiber and tarry pitch. We rigged up a single short mast and light
sail, fastened planking down over the ballast to form a deck, worked her out
into midstream with a couple of sweeps, and dropped our primitive stone anchor
to await the turn of the tide that would bear us out to sea.
While we waited we devoted the time to the construction of an upper deck,
since the one immediately above the ballast was some seven feet from the
gunwale. The second deck was four feet above this. In it was a large, commodious
hatch, leading to the lower deck. The sides of the ship rose three feet above
the upper deck, forming an excellent breastwork, which we loopholed at intervals
that we might lie prone and fire upon an enemy.
Though we were sailing out upon a peaceful mission in search of my friend Ja,
we knew that we might meet with people of some other island who would prove
At last the tide turned. We weighed anchor. Slowly we drifted down the great
river toward the sea.
About us swarmed the mighty denizens of the primeval deep--plesiosauri and
ichthyosauria with all their horrid, slimy cousins whose names were as the names
of aunts and uncles to Perry, but which I have never been able to recall an hour
after having heard them.
At last we were safely launched upon the journey to which we had looked
forward for so long, and the results of which meant so much to me.