The Lost World
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trees, which enabled us to outflank this pestilent morass, which
droned like an organ in the distance, so loud was it with insect life.
On the second day after leaving our canoes we found that the
whole character of the country changed. Our road was
persistently upwards, and as we ascended the woods became
thinner and lost their tropical luxuriance. The huge trees of
the alluvial Amazonian plain gave place to the Phoenix and coco
palms, growing in scattered clumps, with thick brushwood between.
In the damper hollows the Mauritia palms threw out their graceful
drooping fronds. We traveled entirely by compass, and once or
twice there were differences of opinion between Challenger and
the two Indians, when, to quote the Professor's indignant words,
the whole party agreed to "trust the fallacious instincts of
undeveloped savages rather than the highest product of modern
European culture." That we were justified in doing so was shown
upon the third day, when Challenger admitted that he recognized
several landmarks of his former journey, and in one spot we
actually came upon four fire-blackened stones, which must have
marked a camping-place.
The road still ascended, and we crossed a rock-studded slope
which took two days to traverse. The vegetation had again
changed, and only the vegetable ivory tree remained, with a
great profusion of wonderful orchids, among which I learned to
recognize the rare Nuttonia Vexillaria and the glorious pink and
scarlet blossoms of Cattleya and odontoglossum. Occasional brooks
with pebbly bottoms and fern-draped banks gurgled down the shallow
gorges in the hill, and offered good camping-grounds every evening
on the banks of some rock-studded pool, where swarms of little
blue-backed fish, about the size and shape of English trout,
gave us a delicious supper.
On the ninth day after leaving the canoes, having done, as I
reckon, about a hundred and twenty miles, we began to emerge from
the trees, which had grown smaller until they were mere shrubs.
Their place was taken by an immense wilderness of bamboo, which
grew so thickly that we could only penetrate it by cutting a
pathway with the machetes and billhooks of the Indians. It took
us a long day, traveling from seven in the morning till eight at
night, with only two breaks of one hour each, to get through
this obstacle. Anything more monotonous and wearying could not be
imagined, for, even at the most open places, I could not see more
than ten or twelve yards, while usually my vision was limited to
the back of Lord John's cotton jacket in front of me, and to the
yellow wall within a foot of me on either side. From above came
one thin knife-edge of sunshine, and fifteen feet over our heads
one saw the tops of the reeds swaying against the deep blue sky.
I do not know what kind of creatures inhabit such a thicket, but
several times we heard the plunging of large, heavy animals quite
close to us. From their sounds Lord John judged them to be some
form of wild cattle. Just as night fell we cleared the belt of
bamboos, and at once formed our camp, exhausted by the
Early next morning we were again afoot, and found that the
character of the country had changed once again. Behind us was
the wall of bamboo, as definite as if it marked the course of
a river. In front was an open plain, sloping slightly upwards
and dotted with clumps of tree-ferns, the whole curving before
us until it ended in a long, whale-backed ridge. This we reached
about midday, only to find a shallow valley beyond, rising once
again into a gentle incline which led to a low, rounded sky-line.
It was here, while we crossed the first of these hills, that an
incident occurred which may or may not have been important.
Professor Challenger, who with the two local Indians was in the van
of the party, stopped suddenly and pointed excitedly to the right.
As he did so we saw, at the distance of a mile or so, something
which appeared to be a huge gray bird flap slowly up from the
ground and skim smoothly off, flying very low and straight, until
it was lost among the tree-ferns.
"Did you see it?" cried Challenger, in exultation. "Summerlee, did
you see it?"
His colleague was staring at the spot where the creature had disappeared.
"What do you claim that it was?" he asked.
"To the best of my belief, a pterodactyl."
Summerlee burst into derisive laughter "A pter-fiddlestick!" said he.
"It was a stork, if ever I saw one."
Challenger was too furious to speak. He simply swung his pack
upon his back and continued upon his march. Lord John came abreast
of me, however, and his face was more grave than was his wont.
He had his Zeiss glasses in his hand.
"I focused it before it got over the trees," said he. "I won't
undertake to say what it was, but I'll risk my reputation as a
sportsman that it wasn't any bird that ever I clapped eyes on in
So there the matter stands. Are we really just at the edge of
the unknown, encountering the outlying pickets of this lost world
of which our leader speaks? I give you the incident as it
occurred and you will know as much as I do. It stands alone, for
we saw nothing more which could be called remarkable.
And now, my readers, if ever I have any, I have brought you up
the broad river, and through the screen of rushes, and down the
green tunnel, and up the long slope of palm trees, and through
the bamboo brake, and across the plain of tree-ferns. At last
our destination lay in full sight of us. When we had crossed
the second ridge we saw before us an irregular, palm-studded
plain, and then the line of high red cliffs which I have seen
in the picture. There it lies, even as I write, and there can
be no question that it is the same. At the nearest point it is
about seven miles from our present camp, and it curves away,
stretching as far as I can see. Challenger struts about like
a prize peacock, and Summerlee is silent, but still sceptical.
Another day should bring some of our doubts to an end.
Meanwhile, as Jose, whose arm was pierced by a broken bamboo,
insists upon returning, I send this letter back in his charge,
and only hope that it may eventually come to hand. I will write
again as the occasion serves. I have enclosed with this a rough
chart of our journey, which may have the effect of making the
account rather easier to understand.
"Who could have Foreseen it?"
A dreadful thing has happened to us. Who could have foreseen it?
I cannot foresee any end to our troubles. It may be that we are
condemned to spend our whole lives in this strange, inaccessible place.
I am still so confused that I can hardly think clearly of the facts
of the present or of the chances of the future. To my astounded
senses the one seems most terrible and the other as black as night.
No men have ever found themselves in a worse position; nor is
there any use in disclosing to you our exact geographical
situation and asking our friends for a relief party. Even if
they could send one, our fate will in all human probability be
decided long before it could arrive in South America.
We are, in truth, as far from any human aid as if we were in
the moon. If we are to win through, it is only our own qualities
which can save us. I have as companions three remarkable men, men
of great brain-power and of unshaken courage. There lies our one
and only hope. It is only when I look upon the untroubled faces
of my comrades that I see some glimmer through the darkness.
Outwardly I trust that I appear as unconcerned as they. Inwardly I
am filled with apprehension.
Let me give you, with as much detail as I can, the sequence of
events which have led us to this catastrophe.
When I finished my last letter I stated that we were within seven
miles from an enormous line of ruddy cliffs, which encircled,
beyond all doubt, the plateau of which Professor Challenger spoke.
Their height, as we approached them, seemed to me in some places
to be greater than he had stated--running up in parts to at least
a thousand feet--and they were curiously striated, in a manner
which is, I believe, characteristic of basaltic upheavals.
Something of the sort is to be seen in Salisbury Crags at Edinburgh.
The summit showed every sign of a luxuriant vegetation, with bushes
near the edge, and farther back many high trees. There was no
indication of any life that we could see.
That night we pitched our camp immediately under the cliff--a
most wild and desolate spot. The crags above us were not merely
perpendicular, but curved outwards at the top, so that ascent was
out of the question. Close to us was the high thin pinnacle of
rock which I believe I mentioned earlier in this narrative. It is
like a broad red church spire, the top of it being level with the
plateau, but a great chasm gaping between. On the summit of it
there grew one high tree. Both pinnacle and cliff were
comparatively low--some five or six hundred feet, I should think.
"It was on that," said Professor Challenger, pointing to this
tree, "that the pterodactyl was perched. I climbed half-way up
the rock before I shot him. I am inclined to think that a good
mountaineer like myself could ascend the rock to the top, though
he would, of course, be no nearer to the plateau when he had done so."
As Challenger spoke of his pterodactyl I glanced at Professor
Summerlee, and for the first time I seemed to see some signs of a
dawning credulity and repentance. There was no sneer upon his
thin lips, but, on the contrary, a gray, drawn look of excitement
and amazement. Challenger saw it, too, and reveled in the first
taste of victory.
"Of course," said he, with his clumsy and ponderous sarcasm,
"Professor Summerlee will understand that when I speak of a
pterodactyl I mean a stork--only it is the kind of stork which
has no feathers, a leathery skin, membranous wings, and teeth in
its jaws." He grinned and blinked and bowed until his colleague
turned and walked away.
In the morning, after a frugal breakfast of coffee and manioc--we
had to be economical of our stores--we held a council of war as
to the best method of ascending to the plateau above us.
Challenger presided with a solemnity as if he were the Lord Chief
Justice on the Bench. Picture him seated upon a rock, his absurd
boyish straw hat tilted on the back of his head, his supercilious
eyes dominating us from under his drooping lids, his great black