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Cheap Paper, Cheap Printing, & Cheap Authors: Wayback Wednesday

In 1882, Frank Munsey launched a children’s magazine titled The Golden Argosy. He used a steam printing press to ink the pages, which reduced the cost of producing each issue. The magazine catered to children and was wildly successful for its first several years. In December 1888, he shortened the title to The Argosy. Circulation began to fall off. Munsey wasn’t too worried initially. But by the mid-1890s circulation had fallen from 115,000 issues sold per week to barely 9,000. Munsey tried several approaches to raise circulation but eventually decided that the major problem was that the magazine was for children. Children grow up and stop subscribing. On the other hand, adults keep subscriptions.


Munsey did away with the children’s stories, changed to cheap pulp paper, and sought out new writers for his adult fiction. His idea was that new writers would ask for less money per story, thus keeping the cost down further. He even stopped printing cover art to reduce his overhead. The plan worked and the first pulp magazine was born.

Cover of The Strand Magazine with a man in a brown suit kneeling before an Egyptian queen
The Strand Magazine (February 1913)

The Argosy wasn’t focused on only one type of story, they published anything as long as it was good fiction. The genres ranged from crime to jungle adventures to war stories to science fiction to westerns. The editors gathered a stable of writers who would later become famous, including Upton Sinclair, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and C. S. Forester.


But with success came competitors. The first was The Popular Magazine. By including print on the inside covers, it claimed to be the “biggest magazine in the world.” Which it was… by two whole printed pages over The Argosy. However, the more innovative change was the addition of lurid color covers. The art was evocative and eye-catching. Additionally, the publishers managed to acquire the rights to serialize Ayesha, the sequel to H. Rider Haggard’s immensely popular lost world book She.


Soon both magazines had additional rivals. Instead of trying to cover every genre, these competitors focused on one genre each. They were given titles that clearly let the consumer know what was inside. Some of the best-known were Flying Aces, Horror Stories, Weird Tales, Planet Stories, and Amazing Stories. The popularity of the magazines continued to rise through the Great Depression.


This was because the cost of the magazines did not change greatly from the 1920s to the 1940s, running about 10 cents an issue. This meant they were still affordable to many working-class people throughout the decade. By the beginning of the 1930s, there were over 150 different pulp magazines being published.


Serialized books were popular with the publishers. The new writers and new stories were great, but they planned on keeping the readers coming back through cliffhangers. By serializing longer works, it was more likely a reader would subscribe to the magazine or buy it from a stand each week or month. Since a novel would run from as short as three issues to as many as twelve, there was plenty of incentive to come back issue after issue. The magazines also garnered stables of authors who were popular with their reading crowd.


But war loomed on the horizon in Europe, and the face of the pulp magazine was changing…


Chapter III: Rushing Toward Venus


Burroughs starts this chapter with a description of the depression felt by Carson and its general effect on his psyche. He describes the listlessness and apparent uncaring nature of what is going on. Carson is able to pull himself out of the depression by realizing there is a small chance his torpedo may intersect with Venus’s orbit. Here he talks about the fact that excitement for the new can change an outlook, even if the new is also doom filled.


We then get additional hard science facts about the orbital speed of Venus, the distance to the Sun of Earth, Mars, and Venus, and the general uninhabitable nature of Venus. Carson is certain if he lands on Venus he will die, but it will be different than driving into the Sun. He then goes into the basic math of determining when the gravitational pull of Venus has captured his torpedo.


When the ship has entered the atmosphere, Carson releases the ship’s parachutes, then wearing his own parachute and oxygen, leaps from the ship. The cloud cover prevents him from seeing the ground, so he has no idea of what his landing site is. Interestingly, instead of having an atmospheric testing kit, Carson simply breathes through his nose to see if the air is safe.


As he falls through the clouds, he notes light below a second cloud layer, indicating intelligent life. Carson crashes through branches of a tree and lands on a causeway below. Here he deals with the first wildlife. Burroughs gives us a bizarre and alien creature, with multicolored stripes, a single eye on an antenna, two chelae (pincer claws), and a massive fanged mouth.


A group of dark-skinned natives who appear to be fully human save Carson. They carry swords, daggers, and spears and handily dispatch the strange beast. After saving him, they escort Carson into a well-appointed room and lock him inside for the evening.


Humans as aliens, even on planets where the other biology is massively different, was a common trope in many early science fiction pulp stories.


Chapter IV: To the House of the King


Now that there is light, Burroughs can continue his quick worldbuilding. The cloud diffused sunlight reveals another alien landscape. The foliage colors are all purples, from deep royal to pale violet. The trees are massive, with many being well over two hundred feet in diameter and the air is warm but not oppressive.


Next is a more in-depth discussion of the people of Amtor. They are all dark-skinned, noted as deep tan, and comely. Though Carson notes a lack of any children or old folks. This may become important to either the culture of Amtor or the story itself since the lack is mentioned several times.


Many times in pulp, only the villain is ugly. The heroes and the commoners in planetary romances are quite nice looking. It is a way of setting the villain off from the others and creating a quick and easy way to distinguish them. Having the men and women be beautiful means that if they are attracted to the hero or heroine, the hero or heroine must be even more beautiful.


Burroughs also describes the exquisite workmanship of the native Amtorans. They carve bone, coral, and wood. Carson believes the value to be in the workmanship rather than the materials since carvings on the bone pieces are as intricate as on the coral.


Finally, Carson spent three weeks becoming functionally literate in the language. Here Burroughs gives a quick discussion of the language without giving any examples. This is very different from more modern stories where the authors will give at minimum a few words and in some cases complete languages. Take for example Elven in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien or the Klingon language in Star Trek. Burroughs's description is enough to make the language viable to the reader but not so long or in-depth as to bore them.


Finally, Carson learns about what Amtor is believed to be like. Here the reasoning for a flat world belief is described in sensible (at least to the natives) reasoning. Carson tries to show how the reasoning might be flawed, which is countered with math, where they use the square root of negative one to explain the discrepancy in distance measurement. Carson decides not to argue at that point.




Pirates of Venus

Edgar Rice Burroughs


V

THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN


For some time I had been aware that I was in the house of Mintep, the king, and that the country was called Vepaja. Jong, which I had originally thought to be his name, was his title; it is Amtorian for king. I learned that Duran was of the house of Zar and that Olthar and Kamlot were his sons; Zuro, one of the women I had met there, was attached to Duran; the other, Alzo, was attached to Olthar; Kamlot had no woman. I use the word attached partially because it is a reasonably close translation of the Amtorian word for the connection and partially because no other word seems exactly to explain the relationship between these men and women.


They were not married, because the institution of marriage is unknown here. One could not say that they belonged to the men, because they were in no sense slaves or servants, nor had they been acquired by purchase or feat of arms. They had come willingly, following a courtship, and they were free to depart whenever they chose, just as the men were free to depart and seek other connections; but, as I was to learn later, these connections are seldom broken, while infidelity is as rare here as it is prevalent on earth.


Each day I took exercise on the broad veranda that encircled the tree at the level upon which my apartment was located; at least, I assumed that it encircled the tree, but I did not know, as that portion assigned to me was but a hundred feet long, a fifteenth part of the circumference of the great tree. At each end of my little segment was a fence. The section adjoining mine on the right appeared to be a garden, as it was a mass of flowers and shrubbery growing in soil that must have been brought up from that distant surface of the planet that I had as yet neither set foot upon nor seen. The section on my left extended in front of the quarters of several young officers attached to the household of the king. I call them young because Danus told me they were young, but they appear to be about the same age as all the other Amtorians I have seen. They were pleasant fellows, and after I learned to speak their language we occasionally had friendly chats together.


But in the section at my right I had never seen a human being; and then one day, when Danus was absent and I was walking alone, I saw a girl among the flowers there. She did not see me; and I only caught the briefest glimpse of her, but there was something about her that made me want to see her again, and thereafter I rather neglected the young officers on my left.


Though I haunted the end of my veranda next the garden for several days, I did not again see the girl during all that time. The place seemed utterly deserted until one day I saw the figure of a man among the shrubbery. He was moving with great caution, creeping stealthily; and presently, behind him, I saw another and another, until I had counted five of them all together.


They were similar to the Vepajans, yet there was a difference. They appeared coarser, more brutal, than any of the men I had as yet seen; and in other ways they were dissimilar to Danus, Duran, Kamlot, and my other Venusan acquaintances. There was something menacing and sinister, too, in their silent, stealthy movements.


I wondered what they were doing there; and then I thought of the girl, and for some reason the conclusion was forced upon me that the presence of these men here had something to do with her, and that it boded her harm. Just in what way I could not even surmise, knowing so little of the people among whom fate had thrown me; but the impression was quite definite, and it excited me. Perhaps it rather overcame my better judgment, too, if my next act is an index to the matter.


Without thought of the consequences and in total ignorance of the identity of the men or the purpose for which they were in the garden, I vaulted the low fence and followed them. I made no noise. They had not seen me originally because I had been hidden from their view by a larger shrub that grew close to the fence that separated the garden from my veranda. It was through the foliage of this shrub that I had observed them, myself unobserved.


Moving cautiously but swiftly, I soon overtook the hindmost man and saw that the five were moving toward an open doorway beyond which, in a richly furnished apartment, I saw the girl who had aroused my curiosity and whose beautiful face had led me into this mad adventure. Almost simultaneously, the girl glanced up and saw the leading man at the doorway. She screamed, and then I knew that I had not come in vain.


Instantly I leaped upon the man in front of me, and as I did so I gave a great shout, hoping by that means to distract the attention of the other four from the girl to me, and in that I was wholly successful. The other four turned instantly. I had taken my man so completely by surprise that I was able to snatch his sword from its scabbard before he could recover his wits; and as he drew his dagger and struck at me, I ran his own blade through his heart; then the others were upon me.


Their faces were contorted by rage, and I could see that they would give me no quarter.


The narrow spaces between the shrubbery reduced the advantage which four men would ordinarily have had over a single antagonist, for they could attack me only singly; but I knew what the outcome must eventually be if help did not reach me, and as my only goal was to keep the men from the girl, I backed slowly toward the fence and my own veranda as I saw that all four of the men were following me.


My shout and the girl’s scream had attracted attention; and presently I heard men running in the apartment in which I had seen the girl, and her voice directing them toward the garden. I hoped they would come before the fellows had backed me against the wall, where I was confident that I must go down in defeat beneath four swords wielded by men more accustomed to them than I. I thanked the good fortune, however, that had led me to take up fencing seriously in Germany, for it was helping me now, though I could not long hold out against these men with the Venusan sword which was a new weapon to me.


I had reached the fence at last and was fighting with my back toward it. The fellow facing me was cutting viciously at me. I could hear the men coming from the apartment Could I hold out? Then my opponent swung a terrific cut at my head, and, instead of parrying it, I leaped to one side and simultaneously stepped in and cut at him. His own swing had carried him off balance, and, of course, his guard was down. My blade cut deep into his neck, severing his jugular. From behind him another man was rushing upon me.


Relief was coming. The girl was safe. I could accomplish no more by remaining there and being cut to pieces, a fate I had only narrowly averted in the past few seconds. I hurled my sword, point first, at the oncoming Venusan; and as it tore into his breast I turned and vaulted the fence into my own veranda.


Then, as I looked back, I saw a dozen Vepajan warriors overwhelm the two remaining intruders, butchering them like cattle. There was no shouting and no sound other than the brief clash of swords as the two sought desperately but futilely to defend themselves. The Vepajans spoke no word. They seemed shocked and terrified, though their terror had most certainly not been the result of any fear of their late antagonists. There was something else which I did not understand, something mysterious in their manner, their silence, and their actions immediately following the encounter.


Quickly they seized the bodies of the five strange warriors that had been killed and carrying them to the outer garden wall, hurled them over into that bottomless abyss of the forest the terrific depths of which my eyes had never been able to plumb. Then, in equal silence, they departed from the garden by the same path by which they had entered it.


I realized that they had not seen me, and I knew that the girl had not. I wondered a little how they accounted for the deaths of the three men I had disposed of, but I never learned. The whole affair was a mystery to me and was only explained long after in the light of ensuing events.


I thought that Danus might mention it and thus give me an opportunity to question him; but he never did, and something kept me from broaching the subject to him, modesty perhaps. In other respects, however, my curiosity concerning these people was insatiable; and I fear that I bored Danus to the verge of distraction with my incessant questioning, but I excused myself on the plea that I could only learn the language by speaking it and hearing it spoken; and Danus, that most delightful of men, insisted that it was not only a pleasure to inform me but his duty as well, the jong having requested him to inform me fully concerning the life, customs, and history of the Vepajans.


One of the many things that puzzled me was why such an intelligent and cultured people should be living in trees, apparently without servants or slaves and with no intercourse, as far as I had been able to discover, with other peoples; so one evening I asked him.


“It is a long story,” replied Danus; “much of it you will find in the histories here upon my shelves, but I can give you a brief outline that will at least answer your question.


“Hundreds of years ago the kings of Vepaja ruled a great country. It was not this forest island where you now find us, but a broad empire that embraced a thousand islands and extended from Strabol to Karbol; it included broad land masses and great oceans; it was graced by mighty cities and boasted a wealth and commerce unsurpassed through all the centuries before or since.


“The people of Vepaja in those days were numbered in the millions; there were millions of merchants and millions of wage earners and millions of slaves, and there was a smaller class of brain workers. This class included the learned professions of science, medicine, and law, of letters and the creative arts. The military leaders were selected from all classes. Over all was the hereditary jong.


“The lines between the classes were neither definitely nor strictly drawn; a slave might become a free man, a free man might become anything he chose within the limits of his ability, short of jong. In social intercourse the four principal classes did not intermingle with each other, due to the fact that members of one class had little in common with members of the other classes and not through any feeling of superiority or inferiority. When a member of a lower class had won by virtue of culture, learning, or genius to a position in a higher class, he was received upon an equal footing, and no thought was given to his antecedents.


“Vepaja was prosperous and happy, yet there were malcontents. These were the lazy and incompetent. Many of them were of the criminal class. They were envious of those who had won to positions which they were not mentally equipped to attain. Over a long period of time they were responsible for minor discord and dissension, but the people either paid no attention to them or laughed them down. Then they found a leader. He was a laborer named Thor, a man with a criminal record.


“This man founded a secret order known as Thorists and preached a gospel of class hatred called Thorism. By means of lying propaganda he gained a large following, and as all his energies were directed against a single class, he had all the vast millions of the other three classes to draw from, though naturally he found few converts among the merchants and employers which also included the agrarian class.


“The sole end of the Thorist leaders was personal power and aggrandizement; their aims were wholly selfish, yet, because they worked solely among the ignorant masses, they had little difficulty in deceiving their dupes, who finally rose under their false leaders in a bloody revolution that sounded the doom of the civilization and advancement of a world.


“Their purpose was the absolute destruction of the cultured class. Those of the other classes who opposed them were to be subjugated or destroyed; the jong and his family were to be killed. These things accomplished, the people would enjoy absolute freedom; there would be no masters, no taxes, no laws.


“They succeeded in killing most of us and a large proportion of the merchant class; then the people discovered what the agitators already knew, that someone must rule, and the leaders of Thorism were ready to take over the reins of government. The people had exchanged the beneficent rule of an experienced and cultured class for that of greedy incompetents and theorists.


“Now they are all reduced to virtual slavery. An army of spies watches over them, and an army of warriors keeps them from turning against their masters; they are miserable, helpless, and hopeless.


“Those of us who escaped with our jong sought out this distant, uninhabited island. Here we constructed tree cities, such as this, far above the ground, from which they cannot be seen. We brought our culture with us and little else; but our wants are few, and we are happy. We would not return to the old system if we might. We have learned our lesson, that a people divided amongst themselves cannot be happy. Where there are even slight class distinctions there are envy and jealousy. Here there are none; we are all of the same class. We have no servants; whatever there is to do we do better than servants ever did it. Even those who serve the jong are not servants in the sense that they are menials, for their positions are considered posts of honor, and the greatest among us take turns in filling them.”


“But I still do not understand why you choose to live in trees, far above the ground,” I said.


“For years the Thorists hunted us down to kill us,” he explained, “and we were forced to live in hidden, inaccessible places; this type of city was the solution of our problem. The Thorists still hunt us; and there are still occasional raids, but now they are for a very different purpose. Instead of wishing to kill us, they now wish to capture as many of us as they can.


“Having killed or driven away the brains of the nation, their civilization has deteriorated, disease is making frightful inroads upon them which they are unable to check, old age has reappeared and is taking its toll; so they seek to capture the brains and the skill and the knowledge which they have been unable to produce and which we alone possess.”


“Old age is reappearing! What do you mean?” I asked.


“Have you not noticed that there are no signs of old age among us?” he inquired.


“Yes, of course,” I replied, “nor any children. I have often meant to ask you for an explanation.”


“These are not natural phenomena,” he assured me; “they are the crowning achievements of medical science. A thousand years ago the serum of longevity was perfected. It is injected every two years and not only provides immunity from all diseases but insures the complete restoration of all wasted tissue.


“But even in good there is evil. As none grew old and none died, except those who met with violent death, we were faced with the grave dangers of overpopulation. To combat this, birth control became obligatory. Children are permitted now only in sufficient numbers to replace actual losses in population. If a member of a house is killed, a woman of that house is permitted to bear a child, if she can; but after generations of childlessness there is a constantly decreasing number of women who are capable of bearing children. This situation we have met by anticipating it.


“Statistics compiled over a period of a thousand years indicate the average death rate expectancy per thousand people; they have also demonstrated that only fifty per cent of our women are capable of bearing children; therefore, fifty per cent of the required children are permitted yearly to those who wish them, in the order in which their applications are filed.”


“I have not seen a child since I arrived in Amtor,” I told him.


“There are children here,” he replied, “but, of course, not many.”


“And no old people,” I mused. “Could you administer that serum to me, Danus?”


He smiled. “With Mintep’s permission, which I imagine will not be difficult to obtain. Come,” he added, “I’ll take some blood tests now to determine the type and attenuation of serum best adapted to your requirements.” He motioned me into his laboratory.


When he had completed the tests, which he accomplished with ease and rapidity, he was shocked by the variety and nature of malignant bacteria they revealed.


“You are a menace to the continued existence of human life on Amtor,” he exclaimed with a laugh.


“I am considered a very healthy man in my own world,” I assured him.


“How old are you?” he asked.


“Twenty-seven.”


“You would not be so healthy two hundred years from now if all those bacteria were permitted to have their way with you.”


“How old might I live to be if they were eradicated?” I asked.


He shrugged. “We do not know. The serum was perfected a thousand years ago. There are people among us today who were of the first to receive injections. I am over five hundred years old; Mintep is seven hundred. We believe that, barring accidents, we shall live forever; but, of course, we do not know. Theoretically, we should.”


He was called away at this juncture; and I went out on the veranda to take my exercise, of which I have found that I require a great deal, having always been athletically inclined. Swimming, boxing, and wrestling had strengthened and developed my muscles since I had returned to America with my mother when I was eleven, and I became interested in fencing while I was travelling in Europe after she died. During my college days I was amateur middleweight boxer of California, and I captured several medals for distance swimming; so the inforced inactivity of the past two months had galled me considerably. Toward the end of my college days I had grown into the heavyweight class, but that had been due to an increase of healthy bone and sinew; now I was at least twenty pounds heavier and that twenty pounds was all fat.


On my one hundred feet of veranda I did the best I could to reduce. I ran miles, I shadow boxed, I skipped rope, and I spent hours with the old seventeen setting-up exercises of drill regulations. Today I was shadow boxing near the right end of my veranda when I suddenly discovered the girl in the garden observing me. As our eyes met I halted in my tracks and smiled at her. A frightened look came into her eyes, and she turned and fled. I wondered why.


Puzzled, I walked slowly back toward my apartment, my exercises forgotten. This time I had seen the girl’s full face, looked her squarely in the eyes, and I had been absolutely dumfounded by her beauty. Every man and woman I had seen since I had come to Venus had been beautiful; I had come to expect that. But I had not expected to see in this or any other world such indescribable perfection of coloring and features, combined with character and intelligence, as that which I had just seen in the garden beyond my little fence. But why had she run away when I smiled?


Possibly she had run away merely because she had been discovered watching me for, after all, human nature is about the same everywhere. Even twenty-six million miles from earth there are human beings like ourselves and a girl, with quite human curiosity, who runs away when she is discovered. I wondered if she resembled earthly girls in other respects, but she seemed too beautiful to be just like anything on earth or in heaven. Was she young or old? Suppose she were seven hundred years old!


I went to my apartment and prepared to bathe and change my loincloth; I had long since adopted the apparel of Amtor. As I glanced in a mirror that hangs in my bathroom I suddenly understood why the girl may have looked frightened and run away—my beard! It was nearly a month old now and might easily have frightened anyone who had never before seen a beard.


When Danus returned I asked him what I could do about it. He stepped into another room and returned with a bottle of salve.


“Rub this into the roots of the hair on your face,” he directed, “but be careful not to get it on your eyebrows, lashes, or the hair on your head. Leave it there a minute and then wash your face.”


I stepped into my bathroom and opened the jar; its contents looked like vaseline and smelled like the devil, but I rubbed it into the roots of my beard as Danus had directed. When I washed my face a moment later my beard came off, leaving my face smooth and hairless. I hurried back to the room where I had left Danus.


“You are quite handsome after all,” he remarked. “Do all the people of this fabulous world of which you have told me have hair growing on their faces?”


“Nearly all,” I replied, “but in my country the majority of men keep it shaved off.”


“I should think the women would be the ones to shave,” he commented. “A woman with hair on her face would be quite repulsive to an Amtorian.”


“But our women do not have hair on their faces,” I assured him.


“And the men do! A fabulous world indeed.”


“But if Amtorians do not grow beards, what was the need of this salve that you gave me?” I asked.


“It was perfected as an aid to surgery,” he explained. “In treating scalp wounds and in craniectomies it is necessary to remove the hair from about the wound. This unguent serves the purpose better than shaving and also retards the growth of new hair for a longer time.”


“But the hair will grow out again?” I asked.


“Yes, if you do not apply the unguent too frequently,” he replied.


“How frequently?” I demanded.


“Use it every day for six days and the hair will never again grow on your face. We used to use it on the heads of confirmed criminals. Whenever one saw a bald-headed man or a man wearing a wig he watched his valuables.”


“In my country when one sees a bald-headed man,” I said, “he watches his girls. And that reminds me; I have seen a beautiful girl in a garden just to the right of us here. Who is she?”


“She is one whom you are not supposed to see,” he replied. “Were I you, I should not again mention the fact that you have seen her. Did she see you?”


“She saw me,” I replied.


“What did she do?” His tone was serious.


“She appeared frightened and ran.”


“Perhaps you had best keep away from that end of the veranda,” he suggested.


There was that in his manner which precluded questions, and I did not pursue the subject further. Here was a mystery, the first suggestion of mystery that I had encountered in the life of Vepaja, and naturally it piqued my curiosity. Why should I not look at the girl? I had looked at other women without incurring displeasure. Was it only this particular girl upon whom I must not look, or were there other girls equally sacrosanct? It occurred to me that she might be a priestess of some holy order, but I was forced to discard that theory because of my belief that these people had no religion, at least none that I could discover in my talks with Danus. I had attempted to describe some of our earthly religious beliefs to him, but he simply could not perceive either their purpose or meaning any more than he could visualize the solar system of the universe.


Having once seen the girl, I was anxious to see her again; and now that the thing was proscribed, I was infinitely more desirous than ever to look upon her divine loveliness and to speak with her. I had not promised Danus that I would heed his suggestions, for I was determined to ignore them should the opportunity arise.


I was commencing to tire of the virtual imprisonment that had been my lot ever since my advent upon Amtor, for even a kindly jailer and a benign prison régime are not satisfactory substitutes for freedom. I had asked Danus what my status was and what they planned for me in the future, but he had evaded a more direct answer by saying that I was the guest of Mintep, the jong, and that my future would be a matter of discussion when Mintep granted me an audience.


Suddenly now I felt more than before the restrictions of my situation, and they galled me. I had committed no crime. I was a peaceful visitor to Vepaja. I had neither the desire nor the power to harm anyone. These considerations decided me. I determined to force the issue.


A few minutes ago I had been contented with my lot, willing to wait the pleasure of my hosts; now I was discontented. What had induced this sudden change? Could it be the mysterious alchemy of personality that had transmuted the lead of lethargy to the gold of ambitious desire? Had the aura of a vision of feminine loveliness thus instantly reversed my outlook upon life?


I turned toward Danus. “You have been very kind to me,” I said, “and my days here have been happy, but I am of a race of people who desire freedom above all things. As I have explained to you, I am here through no intentional fault of my own; but I am here, and being here I expect the same treatment that would be accorded you were you to visit my country under similar circumstances.”


“And what treatment would that be?” he asked.


“The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—freedom,” I explained. I did not think it necessary to mention chambers of commerce dinners, Rotary and Kiwanis luncheons, triumphal parades and ticker tape, keys to cities, press representatives and photographers, nor news reel cameramen, the price that he would undoubtedly have had to pay for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


“But, my dear friend, one would think from your words that you are a prisoner here!” he exclaimed.


“I am, Danus,” I replied, “and none knows it better than you.”


He shrugged. “I am sorry that you feel that way about it, Carson.”


“How much longer is it going to last?” I demanded.


“The jong is the jong,” he replied. “He will send for you in his own time; until then, let us continue the friendly relations that have marked our association up to now.”


“I hope they will never be changed, Danus,” I told him, “but you may tell Mintep, if you will, that I cannot accept his hospitality much longer; if he does not send for me soon, I shall leave on my own accord.”


“Do not attempt that, my friend,” he warned me.


“And why not?”


“You would not live to take a dozen steps from the apartments that have been assigned you,” he assured me seriously.


“Who would stop me?”


“There are warriors posted in the corridors,” he explained; “they have their orders from the jong.”


“And yet I am not a prisoner!” I exclaimed with a bitter laugh.


“I am sorry that you raised the question,” he said, “as otherwise you might never have known.”


Here indeed was the iron hand in the velvet glove. I hoped it was not wielded by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My position was not an enviable one. Even had I the means to escape, there was no place that I could go. But I did not want to leave Vepaja—I had seen the girl in the garden.


VI

GATHERING TAREL


A week passed, a week during which I permanently discarded my reddish whiskers and received an injection of the longevity serum. The latter event suggested that possibly Mintep would eventually liberate me, for why bestow immortality upon a potential enemy who is one’s prisoner; but then I knew that the serum did not confer absolute immortality—Mintep could have me destroyed if he wished, by which thought was suggested the possibility that the serum had been administered for the purpose of lulling me into a sense of security which I did not, in reality, enjoy. I was becoming suspicious.


While Danus was injecting the serum, I asked him if there were many doctors in Vepaja. “Not so many in proportion to the population as there were a thousand years ago,” he replied. “All the people are now trained in the care of their bodies and taught the essentials of health and longevity. Even without the serums we use to maintain resistance to disease constantly in the human body, our people would live to great ages. Sanitation, diet, and exercise can accomplish wonders by themselves.


“But we must have some doctors. Their numbers are limited now to about one to each five thousand citizens, and in addition to administering the serum, the doctors attend those who are injured by the accidents of daily life, in the hunt, and in duels and war.


“Formerly there were many more doctors than could eke out an honest living, but now there are various agencies that restrict their numbers. Not only is there a law restricting these, but the ten years of study required, the long apprenticeship thereafter, and the difficult examinations that must be passed have all tended to reduce the numbers who seek to follow this profession; but another factor probably achieved more than all else to rapidly reduce the great number of doctors that threatened the continuance of human life on Amtor in the past.


“This was a regulation that compelled every physician and surgeon to file a complete history of each of his cases with the chief medical officer of his district. From diagnosis to complete recovery or death, each detail of the handling of each case had to be recorded and placed on record for the public to consult. When a citizen requires the services of a physician or surgeon now, he may easily determine those who have been successful and those who have not. Fortunately, today there are few of the latter. The law has proved a good one.”


This was interesting, for I had had experience with physicians and surgeons on earth. “How many doctors survived the operation of this new law?” I asked.


“About two per cent,” he replied.


“There must have been a larger proportion of good doctors on Amtor than on earth,” I commented.


Time hung heavily upon my hands. I read a great deal, but an active young man cannot satisfy all his varied life interests with books alone. And then there was the garden at my right. I had been advised to avoid that end of my veranda, but I did not, at least not when Danus was absent. When he was away I haunted that end of the veranda, but it seemed deserted. And then one day I caught a glimpse of her; she was watching me from behind a flowering shrub.


I was close to the fence that separated my runway from her garden; it was not a high fence, perhaps slightly under five feet. She did not run this time, but stood looking straight at me, possibly thinking that I could not see her because of the intervening foliage. I could not see her plainly enough, that is true; and, God, how I wanted to see her!


What is that inexplicable, subtle attraction that some woman holds for every man? For some men there is only one woman in the world who exercises this influence upon him, or perhaps if there are more, the others do not cross his path; for other men there are several; for some none. For me there was this girl of an alien race, upon an alien planet. Perhaps there were others, but if there were, I had never met them. In all my life before I had never been moved by such an irresistible urge. What I did, I did upon the strength of an impulse as uncontrollable as a law of nature; perhaps it was a law of nature that motivated me. I vaulted the fence.


Before the girl could escape me, I stood before her. There were consternation and horror in her eyes. I thought that she was afraid of me.


“Do not be afraid,” I said; “I have not come to harm you, only to speak to you.”


She drew herself up proudly. “I am not afraid of you,” she said; “I—,” she hesitated and then started over. “If you are seen here you will be destroyed. Go back to your quarters at once and never dare such a rash act again.”


I thrilled to the thought that the fear that I had seen so clearly reflected in her eyes was for my safety. “How may I see you?” I asked.


“You may never see me,” she replied.


“But I have seen you, and I intend seeing you again. I am going to see a lot of you, or die in the attempt.”


“Either you do not know what you are doing or you are mad,” she said and turned her back on me as she started to walk away.


I seized her arm. “Wait,” I begged.


She wheeled on me like a tigress and slapped my face, and then she whipped the dagger from the scabbard at her girdle. “How dared you,” she cried, “lay a hand upon me! I should kill you.”


“Why don’t you?” I asked.


“I loathe you,” she said, and it sounded as though she meant it.


“I love you,” I replied, and I knew that I spoke the truth.


At that declaration her eyes did indeed reflect horror. She wheeled then so quickly that I could not stop her and was gone. I stood for a moment, debating whether I should follow her or not, and then a modicum of reason intervened to save me from such an asininity. An instant later I had vaulted the fence again. I did not know whether anyone had seen me or not, and I did not care.


When Danus returned a short time later, he told me that Mintep had sent him for me. I wondered if the summons was in any way related to my adventure in the garden at the right, but I did not inquire. If it were, I should know in due time. The attitude of Danus was unchanged, but that no longer reassured me. I was beginning to suspect that the Amtorians were masters of dissimulation.


Two young officers from the quarters adjoining mine accompanied us to the chamber where the jong was to question me. Whether or not they were acting as an escort to prevent my escape I could not tell. They chatted pleasantly with me during the short walk along the corridor and up the staircase to the level above; but then the guards usually chat pleasantly with the condemned man, if he feels like chatting. They accompanied me into the room where the jong sat. This time he was not alone; there were a number of men gathered about him, and among these I recognized Duran, Olthar, and Kamlot. For some reason the assemblage reminded me of a grand jury, and I could not help but wonder if they were going to return a true bill.


I bowed to the jong, who greeted me quite pleasantly enough, and smiled and nodded to the three men in whose home I had spent my first night on Venus. Mintep looked me over in silence for a moment or two; when he had seen me before I had been dressed in my earthly clothes, now I was garbed (or ungarbed) like a Vepajan.


“Your skin is not as light in color as I thought it,” he commented.


“Exposure to light on the veranda has darkened it,” I replied. I could not say sunlight, because they have no word for sun, of the existence of which they do not dream. However, such was the case, the ultra violet rays of sunlight having penetrated the cloud envelopes surrounding the planet and tanned my body quite as effectively as would exposure to the direct rays of the sun have done.


“You have been quite happy here, I trust,” he said.


“I have been treated with kindness and consideration,” I replied, “and have been quite as happy as any prisoner could reasonably be expected to be.”


The shadow of a smile touched his lips. “You are candid,” he commented.


“Candor is a characteristic of the country from which I come,” I replied.


“However, I do not like the word prisoner,” he said.


“Neither do I, jong, but I like the truth. I have been a prisoner, and I have been awaiting this opportunity to ask you why I am a prisoner and to demand my freedom.”


He raised his eyebrows; then he smiled quite openly. “I think that I am going to like you,” he said; “you are honest and you are courageous, or I am no judge of men.”


I inclined my head in acknowledgment of the compliment. I had not expected that he would receive my blunt demand in a spirit of such generous understanding; but I was not entirely relieved, for experience had taught me that these people could be very suave while being most uncompromising.


“There are some things that I wish to tell you and some questions that I wish to ask you,” he continued. “We are still beset by our enemies, who yet send occasional raiding parties against us, who upon numerous occasions have sought to introduce their spies among us. We have three things that they require if they are not to suffer extinction: scientific knowledge, and the brains and experience to apply it. Therefore they go to any lengths to abduct our men, whom they purpose holding in slavery and forcing to apply the knowledge that they themselves do not have. They also abduct our women in the hope of breeding children of greater mentality than those which are now born to them.


“The story that you told of crossing millions of miles of space from another world is, of course, preposterous and naturally aroused our suspicions. We saw in you another Thorist spy, cleverly disguised. For this reason you have been under the careful and intelligent observation of Danus for many days. He reports that there is no doubt but that you were totally ignorant of the Amtorian language when you came among us, and as this is the only language spoken by any of the known races of the world, we have come to the conclusion that your story may be, in part, true. The fact that your skin, hair, and eyes differ in color from those of any known race is further substantiation of this conclusion. Therefore, we are willing to admit that you are not a Thorist, but the questions remain: who are you, and from whence came you?”


“I have told only the truth,” I replied; “I have nothing to add other than to suggest that you carefully consider the fact that the cloud masses surrounding Amtor completely obscure your view and therefore your knowledge of what lies beyond.”


He shook his head. “Let us not discuss it; it is useless to attempt to overthrow the accumulated scientific research and knowledge of thousands of years. We are willing to accept you as of another race, perhaps, as was suggested by the clothing you wore upon your arrival, from cold and dreary Karbol. You are free to come and go as you please. If you remain, you must abide by the laws and customs of Vepaja, and you must become self-supporting. What can you do?”


“I doubt that I can compete with Vepajans at their own trades or professions,” I admitted, “but I can learn something if I am given time.”


“Perhaps we can find someone who will undertake your training,” said the jong, “and in the meantime you may remain in my house, assisting Danus.”


“We will take him into our house and train him,” spoke up Duran, “if he cares to help us collect tarel and hunt.”


Tarel is the strong, silky fiber from which their cloth and cordage are made. I imagined that collecting it would be tame and monotonous work, but the idea of hunting appealed to me. In no event, however, could I ignore Duran’s well-meant invitation, as I did not wish to offend him, and, furthermore, anything would be acceptable that would provide the means whereby I might become self-supporting. I therefore accepted his offer, and, the audience being concluded, I bid good-bye to Danus, who invited me to visit him often, and withdrew with Duran, Olthar, and Kamlot.


As no mention had been made of the subject, I concluded that no one had witnessed my encounter with the girl in the garden, who was still uppermost in my thoughts and the principal cause of my regret that I was to leave the house of the jong.


Once more I was established in the house of Duran, but this time in a larger and more comfortable room. Kamlot took charge of me. He was the younger of the brothers, a quiet, reserved man with the muscular development of a trained athlete. After he had shown me my room, he took me to another apartment, a miniature armory, in which were many spears, swords, daggers, bows, shields, and almost countless arrows. Before a window was a long bench with racks in which were tools of various descriptions; above the bench were shelves upon which were stacked the raw materials for the manufacture of bows, arrows, and spear shafts. Near the bench were a forge and anvil, and there were sheets and rods and ingots of metal stored near by.


“Have you ever used a sword?” he asked as he selected one for me.


“Yes, but for exercise only,” I replied; “in my country we have perfected weapons that render a sword useless in combat.”


He asked me about these weapons and was much interested in my description of earthly firearms. “We have a similar weapon on Amtor,” he said. “We of Vepaja do not possess them, because the sole supply of the material with which they are charged lies in the heart of the Thorist country. When the weapons are made they are charged with an element that emits a ray of extremely short wave length that is destructive of animal tissue, but the element only emits these rays when exposed to the radiation of another rare element. There are several metals that are impervious to these rays. Those shields that you see hanging on the walls, the ones that are metal covered, are ample protection from them. A small shutter of similar metal is used in the weapon to separate the two elements; when this shutter is raised and one element is exposed to the emanations of the other, the destructive R-ray is released and passes along the bore of the weapon toward the target at which the latter has been aimed.


“My people invented and perfected this weapon,” he added ruefully, “and now it has been turned against us; but we get along very well with what we have, as long as we remain in our trees.


“In addition to a sword and dagger, you will need a bow, arrows, and a spear,” and as he enumerated them he selected the various articles for me, the last of which was really a short, heavy javelin. A swivelled ring was attached to the end of the shaft of this weapon, and attached to the ring was a long, slender cord with a hand loop at its extremity. This cord, which was no heavier than ordinary wrapping twine, Kamlot coiled in a peculiar way and tucked into a small opening in the side of the shaft.


“What is the purpose of that cord?” I asked, examining the weapon.


“We hunt high in the trees,” he replied, “and if it were not for the cord we should lose many spears.”


“But that cord is not heavy enough for that, is it?” I asked.


“It is of tarel,” he replied, “and could support the weight of ten men. You will learn much of the properties and value of tarel before you have been with us long. Tomorrow we shall go out together and gather some. It has been rather scarce of late.”


At the evening meal that day I met Zuro and Alzo again, and they were most gracious to me. In the evening they all joined in teaching me the favorite Vepajan game, tork, which is played with pieces that are much like those used in mah jong and bears a startling resemblance to poker.


I slept well that night in my new quarters and when daylight broke I arose, for Kamlot had warned me that we should start early upon our expedition. I cannot say that I looked forward with any considerable degree of enthusiasm to spending the day gathering tarel. The climate of Vepaja is warm and sultry, and I pictured the adventure as being about as monotonous and disagreeable as picking cotton in Imperial Valley.


After a light breakfast, which I helped Kamlot to prepare, he told me to get my weapons. “You should always wear your sword and dagger,” he added.


“Even in the house?” I asked.


“Always, wherever you are,” he replied. “It is not only a custom, but it is the law. We never know when we may be called upon to defend ourselves, our houses, or our jong.”


“Those are all that I need bring, I suppose,” I remarked as I was leaving the room.


“Bring your spear, of course; we are going to gather tarel,” he replied.


Why I should need a spear to gather tarel I could not imagine; but I brought all the weapons that he had mentioned, and when I returned he handed me a bag with a strap that went around my neck to support it at my back.


“Is this for the tarel?” I asked.


He replied that it was.


“You do not expect to gather much,” I remarked.


“We may not get any,” he replied. “If we get a bagful between us we may do some tall boasting when we return.”


I said no more, thinking it best to learn by experience rather than to be continually revealing my lamentable ignorance. If tarel were as scarce as his statement suggested, I should not have much picking to do, and that suited me perfectly. I am not lazy, but I like work that keeps my mind on the alert.


When we were both ready, Kamlot led the way upstairs, a procedure which mystified me, but did not tempt me into asking any more questions. We passed the two upper levels of the house and entered a dark, spiral staircase that led still farther upward into the tree. We ascended this for about fifteen feet, when Kamlot halted and I heard him fumbling with something above me.


Presently the shaft was bathed with light, which I saw came through a small circular opening that had been closed with a stout door. Through this opening Kamlot crawled, and I followed him, to find myself on a limb of the tree. My companion closed and locked the door, using a small key. I now saw that the door was covered on the outside with bark, so that when it was closed it would have been difficult for anyone to have detected it.


With almost monkeylike agility, Kamlot ascended, while I, resembling anything but a monkey in this respect, followed, thankful for the lesser gravitational pull of Venus, however little less than that of earth it might be, for I am not naturally arboreal.


After ascending about a hundred feet, Kamlot crossed to an adjacent tree, the branches of which interlocked with those of the one we had been ascending, and again the upward climb commenced. Occasionally the Vepajan stopped to listen as we passed from tree to tree or clambered to higher levels. After we had travelled for an hour or more, he stopped again and waited until I had overtaken him. A finger on his lips enjoined me to silence.


“Tarel,” he whispered, pointing through the foliage in the direction of an adjacent tree.


I wondered why he had to whisper it, as my eyes followed the direction of his index finger. Twenty feet away I saw what appeared to be a huge spider web, partially concealed by the intervening foliage.


“Be ready with your spear,” whispered Kamlot. “Put your hand through the loop. Follow me, but not too closely; you may need room to cast your spear. Do you see him?”


“No,” I admitted. I saw nothing but the suggestion of a spider web; what else I was supposed to see I did not know.


“Neither do I, but he may be hiding. Look up occasionally so that he can’t take you by surprise from above.”


This was more exciting than picking cotton in Imperial Valley, though as yet I did not know just what there was to be excited about. Kamlot did not appear excited; he was very cool, but he was cautious. Slowly he crept toward the great web, his javelin ready in his hand; and I followed. When we were in full sight of it we saw that it was empty. Kamlot drew his dagger.


“Start cutting it away,” he said. “Cut close to the branches and follow the web around; I will cut in the other direction until we meet. Be careful that you do not get enmeshed in it, especially if he happens to return.”


“Can’t we go around it?” I asked.


Kamlot looked puzzled. “Why should we go around it?” he demanded, a little shortly I thought.


“To get the tarel,” I replied.


“What do you suppose this is?” he demanded.


“A spider’s web.”


“It is tarel.”


I subsided. I had thought that the tarel he pointed at was beyond the web, although I had seen nothing; but then of course I had not known what tarel was or what it looked like. We had been cutting away for a few minutes when I heard a noise in a tree near us. Kamlot heard it at the same time.


“He is coming,” he said. “Be ready!” He slipped his dagger into his sheath and grasped his spear. I followed his example.


The sound stopped, but I could see nothing through the foliage. Presently there was a rustling among the foliage, and a face appeared some fifteen yards from us. It was a hideous face—the face of a spider tremendously enlarged. When the thing saw that we had discovered it, it emitted the most frightful scream I had ever heard save once before. Then I recognized them—the voice and the face. It had been a creature such as this that had pursued my pursuer the night that I had dropped to the causeway in front of the house of Duran.


“Be ready,” cautioned Kamlot; “he will charge.”


The words had scarcely crossed the lips of the Vepajan when the hideous creature rushed toward us. Its body and legs were covered with long, black hair, and there was a yellow spot the size of a saucer above each eye. It screamed horribly as it came, as though to paralyze us with terror.


Kamlot’s spear hand flew back and forward, and the heavy javelin, rushing to meet the maddened creature, buried itself deeply in the repulsive carcass; but it did not stop the charge. The creature was making straight for Kamlot as I hurled my javelin, which struck it in the side; but even this did not stop it, and to my horror I saw it seize my companion as he fell back upon the great limb upon which he had stood, with the spider on top of him.


The footing was secure enough for Kamlot and the spider, for they were both accustomed to it, but to me it seemed very precarious. Of course the tree limbs were enormous and often the branches were laced together, yet I felt anything but secure. However, I had no time to think of that now. If not already dead, Kamlot was being killed. Drawing my sword, I leaped to the side of the huge arachnid and struck viciously at its head, whereupon it abandoned Kamlot and turned upon me; but it was badly wounded now and moved with difficulty.


As I struck at that hideous face, I was horrified to see that Kamlot lay as though dead. He did not move. But I had only time for that single brief glance. If I were not careful I, too, should soon be dead. The thing confronting me seemed endowed with unsapable vitality. It was oozing sticky blood from several wounds, at least two of which I thought should have been almost instantly lethal; yet still it struggled to reach me with the powerful claws that terminated its forelegs, that it might draw me to those hideous jaws.


The Vepajan blade is a keen, two-edged affair, a little wider and thicker near the point than at the haft, and, while not well balanced to my way of thinking, is a deadly cutting weapon. I found it so in this my first experience with it, for as a great claw reached out to seize me I severed it with a single blow. At this the creature screamed more horribly than ever, and with its last remaining vitality sprang upon me as you have seen spiders spring upon their prey. I cut at it again as I stepped back; and then thrust my point directly into that hideous visage, as the weight of the creature overbore me and I went down beneath it.


As it crashed upon me, my body toppled from the great branch upon which I had been standing, and I felt myself falling. Fortunately, the interlacing, smaller branches gave me some support; I caught at them and checked my fall, bringing up upon a broad, flat limb ten or fifteen feet below. I had clung to my sword, and being unhurt, clambered back as quickly as I could to save Kamlot from further attack, but he needed no protection—the great targo, as the creature is called, was dead.


Dead also was Kamlot; I could find no pulse nor detect any beating of the heart. My own sank within my breast. I had lost a friend, I who had so few here, and I was as utterly lost as one may be. I knew that I could not retrace our steps to the Vepajan city, even though my life depended upon my ability to do so, as it doubtless did. I could descend, but whether I was still over the city or not I did not know; I doubted it.


So this was gathering tarel; this was the occupation that I had feared would bore me with its monotony!

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