At the Earth's Core

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 113

cannot guess, unless there were others in the
plot to aid him. Nor can I believe that, since all my people were
loyal to me and would have made short work of Hooja had he suggested
the heartless scheme, even had he had time to acquaint another with it.
It was all done so quickly that I may only believe that it was the
result of sudden impulse, aided by a number of, to Hooja, fortuitous
circumstances occurring at precisely the right moment.

All I know is that it was Hooja who brought Dian to the prospector,
still wrapped from head to toe in the skin of an enormous cave lion
which covered her since the Mahar prisoners had been brought into camp.
He deposited his burden in the seat beside me. I was all ready to get
under way. The good-byes had been said. Perry had grasped my hand in
the last, long farewell. I closed and barred the outer and inner
doors, took my seat again at the driving mechanism, and pulled the
starting lever.

As before on that far-gone night that had witnessed our first trial of
the iron monster, there was a frightful roaring beneath us--the giant
frame trembled and vibrated--there was a rush of sound as the loose
earth passed up through the hollow space between the inner and outer
jackets to be deposited in our wake. Once more the thing was off.

But on the instant of departure I was nearly thrown from my seat by the
sudden lurching of the prospector. At first I did not realize what had
happened, but presently it dawned upon me that just before entering the
crust the towering body had fallen through its supporting scaffolding,
and that instead of entering the ground vertically we were plunging
into it at a different angle. Where it would bring us out upon the
upper crust I could not even conjecture. And then I turned to note the
effect of this strange experience upon Dian. She still sat shrouded in
the great skin.

"Come, come," I cried, laughing, "come out of your shell. No Mahar
eyes can reach you here," and I leaned over and snatched the lion skin
from her. And then I shrank back upon my seat in utter horror.

The thing beneath the skin was not Dian--it was a hideous Mahar.
Instantly I realized the trick that Hooja had played upon me, and the
purpose of it. Rid of me, forever as he doubtless thought, Dian would
be at his

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