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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

And afford assistance in crossing the chasm


to my alarm, when we reached the foot of the ladder, Eveena was nowhere to be seen. Calling her and receiving no reply, calling again and hearing what sounded like her voice, but in a faint tone and coming I knew not whither, I ran round the platform to seek her. I could see nothing of her; but at one point, just where the projecting edge of the platform overhung the precipice below, I recognised her bird fluttering its wings and screaming as if in pain or terror. The Regent was calling me in a somewhat imperious tone, but of course received neither answer nor attention. Reaching the spot, I looked over the edge and with some trouble discovered what had happened. Not merely below but underneath the overhanging edge was a shelf about four feet long and some ten inches in breadth, covered with a flower equally remarkable in form and colour, the former being that of a hollow cylindrical bell, about two inches in diameter; the latter a bluish lilac, the nearest approach to azure I have seen in Mars--the whole ground one sheet of flowers. On this, holding in a half-insensible state to the outward-sloping rock above her, Eveena clung, her veil and head-dress fallen, her face expressing utter bewilderment as well as terror. I saw, though at the moment I hardly understood, how she had reached this point. A very narrow path, some hundred feet in length, sloped down from the table-rock of the summit to the shelf on which she stood, with an outer hedge of shrubs and the summits of small
trees, which concealed, and in some sort guarded, the precipice below, so that even a timid girl might pursue the path without fear. But this path ended several feet from the commencement of the shelf. Across the gap had lain a fallen tree, with boughs affording such a screen and railing on the outward side as might at once conceal the gulf below, and afford assistance in crossing the chasm. But in crossing this tree Eveena's footsteps had displaced it, and it had so given way as not only to be unavailable, but a serious obstacle to my passage. Had I had time to go round, I might have been able to leap the chasm; I certainly could not return that way with a burden even so light as that of my precious charge. The only chance was to lift her by main force directly to where I stood; and the outward projection of the rock at this point rendered this peculiarly difficult, as I had nothing to cling or hold by. The Regent had by this time reached me, and discerned what had occurred.

"Hold me fast," I said, "or sit upon me if you like, to hold me with your weight whilst I lean over." The man stood astounded, not by the danger of another but by the demand on himself; and evidently without the slightest intention of complying.

"You are mad!" he said. "Your chance is ten times greater to lose your own life than to save hers."

"Lose my life!" I cried. "Could I dare return alive without her? Throw your whole weight on me, I say, as I lean over, and waste no more time!"

"What!" he rejoined. "You are twice as heavy as I, and if you are pulled over I shall probably go over too. Why am I to endanger myself to save a girl from the consequences of her folly?"

"If you do not," I swore, "I will fling you where the carcass of which you are so careful shall be crushed out of the very form of the manhood you disgrace."

Even this threat failed to move him. Meantime the bird, fluttering on my shoulder, suggested a last chance; and snatching the tablet round its neck, I wrote two words thereon, and calling to it, "Home!" the intelligent creature flew off at fullest speed.

"Now," I said, "if you do not help me I will kill you here and now. If you pretend to help and fail me, that bird carries to Esmo my request to hold you answerable for our lives."

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