Tanar had been glad of the companionship of Jude, though he never thoroughly understood the man, whose sour and unhappy disposition was so unlike his own. Jude apparently hated and mistrusted everyone, for even in speaking of the people of his own island he mentioned no one except in terms of bitterness and hatred, but this attitude Tanar generously attributed to the effect upon the mind of the Himean of his long and terrible incarceration among the creatures of the underworld, an experience which he was fully convinced might easily affect and unbalance a weak mind.
Even in the breasts of some of the Coripi prisoners Tanar managed to arouse sentiments somewhat analogous to friendship.
Among the latter was a young Coripi named Mow from the grotto of Ictl, who hated all the Coripies from the grotto of Xax and seemed suspicious of those from other grottoes.
Though the creatures seemed endowed with few human attributes or characteristics, yet it was apparent to Tanar that they set a certain value upon companionship, and being denied this among the creatures of his own kind Mow gradually turned to Tanar, whose courageous and happy spirit had not been entirely dampened by his lot.
Jude would have nothing to do with Mow or any other of the Coripies and he reproached Tanar for treating them in a friendly manner.
“We are all prisoners together,” Tanar reminded him, “and they will suffer the same fate as we. It will neither lessen our danger nor add to our peace of mind to quarrel with our fellow prisoners, and I, for my part, find it interesting to talk with them about this strange world which they inhabit.”
And, indeed, Tanar had learned many interesting things about the Coripies. Through his association with Mow he had discovered that the creatures were color blind, seeing everything in blacks and whites and grays through the skin that covered their great eyeballs. He learned also that owing to the restricted amount of food at their command it had been necessary to restrict their number, and to this end it had become customary to destroy women who gave birth to too many children, the third child being equivalent to a death sentence for the mother.
He learned also that among these unhappy Coripies there were no diversions and no aim in life other than eating. So eager and unvaried was their diet of fish and toads and lizards that the promise of warm flesh was the only great event in the tiresome monotony of their deadly existence.
Although Mow had no words for love and no conception of its significance, Tanar was able to gather from his remarks that this sentiment did not exist among the Buried People. A mother looked upon each child as a threat to her existence and a prophecy of death, with the result that she loathed children from birth; nor is this strange when the fact is considered that the men chose as the mothers of their children the women whom they particularly loathed and hated, since the custom of destroying a woman who had borne three children deterred them from mating with any female for whom they might have entertained any degree of liking.
When not hunting or fishing the creatures squatted around upon their haunches staring stupidly and sullenly at the floor of their cavern.
“I should think,” said Tanar to Mow, “that, confronted by such a life, you would welcome death in any form.”
The Coripi shook his head. “I do not want to die,” he said.
“Why?” demanded Tanar.
“I do not know,” replied Mow. “I simply wish to live.”
“Then I take it that you would like to escape from this cavern, if you could,” suggested Tanar.
“Of course I should like to escape,” said Mow, “but if I try to escape and they catch me they will kill me.” “They are going to kill you anyway,” Tanar reminded him.
“Yes, I never thought of that,” said Mow. “That is quite true; they are going to kill me anyhow.”
“Could you escape?” asked Tanar.
“I could if I had someone to help me,” said Mow.
“This cavern is filled with men who will help you,” said Tanar.
“The Coripies from the grotto of Xax will not help me,” said Mow, “because if they escape there is no place where they may go in safety. If Xax recaptures them they will be killed, and the same is true if the ruler of any other grotto captures them.”
“But there are men from other grottoes here,” insisted Tanar, “and there are Jude and I.”
Mow shook his head. “I would not save any of the Coripies. I hate them. They are all enemies from other grottoes.”
“But you do not hate me,” said Tanar, “and I will help you, and so will Jude.”
“I need but one,” said Mow, “but he must be very strong, stronger than you, stronger than Jude.”
“How strong?” asked Tanar.
“He must be able to lift my weight,” replied the Coripi.
“Look then,” said Tanar, and seizing Mow he held him high above his head.
When he had set him down upon the floor again the Coripi gazed at Tanar for some time. “You are, indeed, strong,” he said.
“Then let us make our plans for escape,” said Tanar.
“Just you and I,” said the Coripi.
“We must take Jude with us,” insisted Tanar.
Mow shrugged his shoulders. “It is all the same to me,” he said. “He is not a Coripi, and if we become hungry and cannot find other food we can eat him.”
Tanar made no reply as he felt that it would be unwise to voice his disgust at this proposal and he was sure that he and Jude together could prevent the Coripi from succumbing to his lust for flesh.
“You have noticed at the far end of the cavern, where the shadows are so dense, that one may scarcely see a figure moving there?” asked Mow.
“Yes,” said Tanar.
“There the dim shadows hide the rough, rocky walls and the ceiling there is lost in total darkness, but in the ceiling is an opening that leads through a narrow shaft into a dark tunnel.”
“How do you know this?” asked Tanar.
“I discovered it once when I was hunting. I came upon a strange tunnel leading from that along which I was making my way to the upper world. I followed it to see where it led and I came at last to the opening in the ceiling of this cavern, from whence one may see all that takes place below without being himself seen. When I was brought here as a prisoner I recognized the spot immediately. That is how I know that one may escape if he has proper help.”
“Explain,” said Tanar. .
“The wall beneath the opening is, as I have discovered, inclined backward from the floor to a considerable height and so rough that it can easily be scaled to a little ledge beneath the opening in the ceiling, but just so far beneath that one may not reach it unaided. If, however, I could lift you into the opening you could, in turn, reach down and help me up.”
“But how may we hope to climb the wall without being seen by the guards?” demanded Tanar.
“That is the only chance of capture that we shall have to take,” replied Mow. “It is very dark there and if we wait until another prisoner is brought and their attention is diverted we may be able to succeed in reaching the opening in the ceiling before we are discovered, and once there they cannot capture us.”
Tanar discussed the plan with Jude, who was so elated at the prospect of escape that he almost revealed a suggestion of happiness.
And now commenced an interminable wait for the moment when a new prisoner might be brought into the cavern. The three conspirators made it a practice to spend most of their time in the shadows at the far end of the cavern so that the guards might become accustomed to seeing them there, and as no one other than themselves was aware of the opening in the ceiling at this point no suspicions were aroused, as the spot where they elected to be was at the opposite end of the cavern from the entrance, which was, in so far as the guards knew, the only opening into the cavern.
Tanar, Jude and Mow ate and slept several times until it began to appear that no more prisoners ever would be brought to the cavern; but if no prisoners came, news trickled in and one item filled them with such alarm that they determined to risk all upon the hazard of a bold dash for freedom.
Some Coripies coming to relieve a part of the guard reported that it had been with difficulty that Xax had been able to suppress an uprising among his infuriated tribesmen, many of whom had conceived the conviction that Xax was saving all of the prisoners for himself.
The result had been that a demand had been made upon Xax for an immediate feast of flesh. Perhaps already other Coripies were on their way to conduct the unfortunate prisoners to the great cavern of Xax, where they would be torn limb from limb by the fierce, hunger-mad throng.
And, true enough, there had been time for but one hunger before the party arrived to conduct them back to the main grotto of the tribe.
“Now is the time,” whispered Tanar to Mow and Jude, seeing that the guard was engaged in conversation with the newcomers, and in accordance with their previously made plan the three started without an instant’s hesitation to scale the far wall of the cavern.
Upon a little ledge, twenty-five feet from the floor, Tanar halted, and an instant later Mow and Jude stood upon either side of him. Without a word the Coripi lifted Tanar to his shoulders and in the darkness above Tanar groped for a handhold.
He soon found the opening into the shaft leading into the tunnel above, and, too, he found splendid handholds there so that an instant later he had drawn himself up into the opening and was sitting upon a small ledge that entirely encircled it.
Bracing himself, he reached down and seized the hand of Jude, who was standing upon Mow’s shoulders, and drew the Himean to the ledge beside him.
At that instant a great shouting arose below them, and glancing down Tanar saw that one of the guards had discovered them and that now a general rush of both guard and prisoners was being made in their direction.
Even as Tanar reached down to aid Mow to the safety of the shaft’s mouth, some of the Coripies were already scaling the wall below them. Mow hesitated and turned to look at the enemies clambering rapidly toward him. The ledge upon which Mow stood was narrow and the footing precarious. The surprise and shock of their discovery may have unnerved him, or, in turning to look downward he may have lost his balance, but whatever it was Tanar saw him reel, topple and then lunge downward upon the ascending Coripies, scraping three of them from the wall in his descent as he crashed to the stone floor below, where he lay motionless.
Tanar turned to Jude. “We cannot help him,” he said. “Come, we had better get out of this as quickly as possible.”
Feeling for each new handhold and foothold the two climbed slowly up the short shaft and presently found themselves in the tunnel, which Mow had described. Darkness was absolute.
“Do you know the way to the surface?” asked Jude.
“No,” said Tanar. “I was depending upon Mow to lead us.”
“Then we might as well be back in the cavern,” said Jude.
“Not I,” said Tanar, “for at least I am satisfied now that the Coripies will not eat me alive, if they eat me at all.”
Groping his way through the darkness and followed closely-by Jude, Tanar crept slowly through the Stygian darkness. The tunnel seemed interminable. They became very hungry and there was no food, though they would have relished even the filthy fragments of decayed fish that the Coripies had hurled them while they were prisoners.
“Almost,” said Tanar, “could I eat a toad.” They became exhausted and slept, and then again they crawled and stumbled onward. There seemed no end to the interminable, inky corridor.
For long distances the floor of the tunnel was quite level, but then again it would pitch downward, sometimes so steeply that they had difficulty in clinging to the sloping floor. It turned and twisted as though its original excavators had been seldom of the same mind as to the direction in which they wished to proceed.
On and on the two went; again they slept, but whether that meant that they had covered a great distance, or that they were becoming weak from hunger, neither knew.
When they awoke they went on again for a long time in silence, but the sleep did not seem to have refreshed them much, and Jude especially was soon exhausted again.
“I cannot go much further,” he said. “Why did you lure me into this crazy escapade?”
“You need not have come,” Tanar reminded him, “and if you had not you would by now be out of your misery since doubtless all the prisoners have long since been torn to pieces and devoured by the Coripies of the grotto of Xax.”
Jude shuddered. “I should not mind being dead,” he said, “but I should hate to be tom to pieces by those horrible creatures.”
“This is a much nicer death,” said Tanar, “for when we are sufficiently exhausted we shall simply sleep and awake no more.”
“I do not wish to die,” wailed Jude.
“You have never seemed very happy,” said Tanar. “I should think one as unhappy as you would be glad to die.”
“I enjoy being unhappy,” said Jude. “I know that I should be most miserable were I happy and anyway I should much rather be alive and unhappy than dead and unable to know that I was unhappy.”
“Take heart,” said Tanar. “It cannot be much further to the end of this long corridor. Mow came through it and he did not say that it was so great a length that he became either exhausted or hungry and he not only traversed it from end to end in one direction, but he had to turn around and retrace his steps after he reached the opening into the cavern which we left.”
“The Coripies do not eat much; they are accustomed to starving,” said Jude, “and they sleep less than we.”
“Perhaps you are right,” said Tanar, “but I am sure that we are nearing the end.”
“I am,” said Jude, “but not the end that I had wished.”
Even as they discussed the matter they were moving slowly along, when far ahead Tanar discerned a slight luminosity.
“Look,” he said, “there is light. We are nearing the end.”
The discovery instilled new strength into both the men and with quickened steps they hastened along the tunnel in the direction of the promised escape. As they advanced, the light became more apparent until finally they came to the point where the tunnel they had been traversing opened into a large corridor, which was filled with a subdued light from occasional patches of phosphorescent rock in walls and ceiling, but neither to the right nor the left could they see any sign of daylight.
“Which way now?” demanded Jude.
Tanar shook his head. “I do not know,” he said.
“At least I shall not die in that awful blackness,” wailed Jude, and perhaps that factor of their seemingly inevitable doom had weighed most heavily upon the two Pellucidarians, for, living as these people do beneath the brilliant rays of a perpetual noonday sun, darkness is a hideous and abhorrent thing to them, so unaccustomed are they to it.
“In this light, however slight it may be,” said Tanar, “I can no longer be depressed. I am sure that we shall escape.”
“But in which direction?” again demanded Jude.
“I shall turn to the right,” said Tanar.
Jude shook his head. “That probably is the wrong direction,” he said.
“If you know that the right direction lies to the left,” said Tanar, “let us go to the left.”
“I do not know,” said Jude; “doubtless either direction is wrong.”
“All right,” said Tanar, with a laugh. “We shall go to the right,” and, turning, he set off at a brisk walk along the larger corridor.
“Do you notice anything, Jude?” asked Tanar.
“No. Why do you ask?” demanded the Himean.
“I smell fresh air from the upper world,” said Tanar, “and if I am right we must be near the mouth of the tunnel. “
Tanar was almost running now; exhaustion was forgotten in the unexpected hope of immediate deliverance. To be out in the fresh air and the light of day! To be free from the hideous darkness and the constant menace of recapture by the hideous monsters of the underworld! And across that bright hope, like a sinister shadow, came the numbing fear of disappointment.
What, if, after all, the breath of air which was now clear and fresh in their nostrils should prove to be entering the corridor through some unscalable shaft, such as the Well of Sounding Water into which he had fallen upon his entrance into the country of the Buried People, or what, if, at the moment of escape, they should meet a party of the Coripies?
So heavily did these thoughts weigh upon Tanar’s mind that he slackened his speed until once again he moved in a slow walk.
“What is the matter?” demanded Jude. “A moment ago you were running and now you are barely crawling along. Do not tell me that you were mistaken and that, after all, we are not approaching the mouth of the corridor.”
“I do not know,” said Tanar. “We may be about to meet a terrible disappointment and if that is true I wish to delay it as long as possible. It would be a terrible thing to have hope crushed within our breasts now.”
“I suppose it would,” said Jude, “but that is precisely what I have been expecting.”
“You, I presume, would derive some satisfaction from disappointment,” said Tanar.
“Yes,” said Jude, “I suppose I would. It is my nature.”
“Then prepare to be unhappy,” cried Tanar, suddenly, “for here indeed is the mouth of the tunnel.”
He had spoken just as he had rounded a turn in the corridor, and when Jude came to his side the latter saw daylight creeping into the corridor through an opening just in front of them—an opening beyond which he saw the foliage of growing things and the blue sky of Pellucidar.
Emerging again to the light of the sun after their long incarceration in the bowels of the earth, the two men were compelled to cover their eyes with their hands, while they slowly accustomed themselves again to the brilliant light of the noonday sun of Pellucidar.
When he was able to uncover his eyes and look about him, Tanar saw that the mouth of the tunnel was high upon the precipitous side of a lofty mountain. Below them wooded ravines ran down to a mighty forest, just beyond which lay the sparkling waters of a great ocean that, curving upward, merged in the haze of the distance.
Faintly discernible in the mid-distance an island raised its bulk out of the waters of the ocean.
“That,” said Jude, pointing, “is the island of Hime.”
“Ah, if I, too, could but see my home from here,” sighed Tanar, “my happiness would be almost complete. I envy you, Jude.”
“It gives me no happiness to see Hime,” said Jude. “I hate the place.”
“Then you are not going to try to go back to it?” demanded Tanar.
“Certainly, I shall,” said Jude.
“But, why?” asked Tanar.
“There is no other place where I may go,” grumbled Jude. “At least in Hime they will not kill me for no reason at all as strangers would do if I went elsewhere.”
Jude’s attention was suddenly attracted by something below them in a little glade that lay at the upper end of the ravine, which started a little distance below the mouth of the tunnel.
“Look,” he cried, “there are people.” Tanar looked in the direction in which Jude was pointing, and when his eyes found the figures far below they first went wide with incredulity and then narrowed with rage.
“God!” he exclaimed, and as he voiced that single exclamation he leaped swiftly downward in the direction of the figures in the glade.