The Chessmen of Mars

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 170

it, to find the dried and shrivelled corpse of a man
lying upon his back on the floor with arms outstretched and fingers
stiffly outspread. One of his feet was doubled partially beneath him,
while the other was still entangled in the sleeping silks and furs upon
the dais. After five thousand years the expression of the withered face
and the eyeless sockets retained the aspect of horrid fear to such an
extent, that Gahan knew that he was looking upon the body of O-Mai the
Cruel.

Suddenly Tara, who stood close beside him, clutched his arm and pointed
toward a far corner of the room. Gahan looked and looking felt the
hairs upon his neck rising. He threw his left arm about the girl and
with bared sword stood between her and the hangings that they watched,
and then slowly Gahan of Gathol backed away, for in this grim and
somber chamber, which no human foot had trod for five thousand years
and to which no breath of wind might enter, the heavy hangings in the
far corner had moved. Not gently had they moved as a draught might have
moved them had there been a draught, but suddenly they had bulged out
as though pushed against from behind. To the opposite corner backed
Gahan until they stood with their backs against the hangings there, and
then hearing the approach of their pursuers across the chamber beyond
Gahan pushed Tara through the hangings and, following her, kept open
with his left hand, which he had disengaged from the girl's grasp, a
tiny opening through which he could view the apartment and the doorway
upon the opposite side through which the pursuers would enter, if they
came this far.

Behind the hangings there was a space of about three feet in width
between them and the wall, making a passageway entirely around the
room, broken only by the single entrance opposite them; this being a
common arrangement especially in the sleeping apartments of the rich
and powerful upon Barsoom. The purposes of this arrangement were
several. The passageway afforded a station for guards in the same room
with their master without intruding entirely upon his privacy; it
concealed secret exits from the chamber; it permitted the occupant of
the room to hide eavesdroppers and assassins for use against enemies
that he might lure to his chamber.

The three chiefs with a dozen warriors had had no difficulty in
following the tracks of the fugitives through the dust of the corridors
and chambers they had traversed. To enter this portion of the palace at
all had required all the

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