The Lost World
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"Well, sir, what do you propose?"
"For all I know there may be a tribe of cannibals waitin' for
lunch-time among those very bushes," said Lord John, looking
across the bridge. "It's better to learn wisdom before you get
into a cookin'-pot; so we will content ourselves with hopin' that
there is no trouble waitin' for us, and at the same time we will
act as if there were. Malone and I will go down again, therefore,
and we will fetch up the four rifles, together with Gomez and
the other. One man can then go across and the rest will cover
him with guns, until he sees that it is safe for the whole crowd
to come along."
Challenger sat down upon the cut stump and groaned his
impatience; but Summerlee and I were of one mind that Lord John
was our leader when such practical details were in question.
The climb was a more simple thing now that the rope dangled down
the face of the worst part of the ascent. Within an hour we had
brought up the rifles and a shot-gun. The half-breeds had ascended
also, and under Lord John's orders they had carried up a bale of
provisions in case our first exploration should be a long one.
We had each bandoliers of cartridges.
"Now, Challenger, if you really insist upon being the first man
in," said Lord John, when every preparation was complete.
"I am much indebted to you for your gracious permission," said
the angry Professor; for never was a man so intolerant of every
form of authority. "Since you are good enough to allow it, I
shall most certainly take it upon myself to act as pioneer upon
Seating himself with a leg overhanging the abyss on each side,
and his hatchet slung upon his back, Challenger hopped his way
across the trunk and was soon at the other side. He clambered
up and waved his arms in the air.
"At last!" he cried; "at last!"
I gazed anxiously at him, with a vague expectation that some
terrible fate would dart at him from the curtain of green
behind him. But all was quiet, save that a strange, many-
colored bird flew up from under his feet and vanished among
Summerlee was the second. His wiry energy is wonderful in so frail
a frame. He insisted upon having two rifles slung upon his back,
so that both Professors were armed when he had made his transit.
I came next, and tried hard not to look down into the horrible
gulf over which I was passing. Summerlee held out the butt-end
of his rifle, and an instant later I was able to grasp his hand.
As to Lord John, he walked across--actually walked without support!
He must have nerves of iron.
And there we were, the four of us, upon the dreamland, the lost
world, of Maple White. To all of us it seemed the moment of our
supreme triumph. Who could have guessed that it was the prelude
to our supreme disaster? Let me say in a few words how the
crushing blow fell upon us.
We had turned away from the edge, and had penetrated about fifty
yards of close brushwood, when there came a frightful rending
crash from behind us. With one impulse we rushed back the way
that we had come. The bridge was gone!
Far down at the base of the cliff I saw, as I looked over, a
tangled mass of branches and splintered trunk. It was our
beech tree. Had the edge of the platform crumbled and let
it through? For a moment this explanation was in all our minds.
The next, from the farther side of the rocky pinnacle before us
a swarthy face, the face of Gomez the half-breed, was
slowly protruded. Yes, it was Gomez, but no longer the Gomez
of the demure smile and the mask-like expression. Here was a
face with flashing eyes and distorted features, a face convulsed
with hatred and with the mad joy of gratified revenge.
"Lord Roxton!" he shouted. "Lord John Roxton!"
"Well," said our companion, "here I am."
A shriek of laughter came across the abyss.
"Yes, there you are, you English dog, and there you will remain!
I have waited and waited, and now has come my chance. You found
it hard to get up; you will find it harder to get down. You cursed
fools, you are trapped, every one of you!"
We were too astounded to speak. We could only stand there staring
in amazement. A great broken bough upon the grass showed whence
he had gained his leverage to tilt over our bridge. The face had
vanished, but presently it was up again, more frantic than before.
"We nearly killed you with a stone at the cave," he cried; "but
this is better. It is slower and more terrible. Your bones will
whiten up there, and none will know where you lie or come to
cover them. As you lie dying, think of Lopez, whom you shot five
years ago on the Putomayo River. I am his brother, and, come
what will I will die happy now, for his memory has been avenged."
A furious hand was shaken at us, and then all was quiet.
Had the half-breed simply wrought his vengeance and then escaped,
all might have been well with him. It was that foolish,
irresistible Latin impulse to be dramatic which brought his
own downfall. Roxton, the man who had earned himself the name of
the Flail of the Lord through three countries, was not one who
could be safely taunted. The half-breed was descending on the
farther side of the pinnacle; but before he could reach the ground
Lord John had run along the edge of the plateau and gained a point
from which he could see his man. There was a single crack of his
rifle, and, though we saw nothing, we heard the scream and then
the distant thud of the falling body. Roxton came back to us with
a face of granite.
"I have been a blind simpleton," said he, bitterly, "It's my
folly that has brought you all into this trouble. I should have
remembered that these people have long memories for blood-feuds,
and have been more upon my guard."
"What about the other one? It took two of them to lever that tree
over the edge."
"I could have shot him, but I let him go. He may have had no
part in it. Perhaps it would have been better if I had killed
him, for he must, as you say, have lent a hand."
Now that we had the clue to his action, each of us could cast
back and remember some sinister act upon the part of the
half-breed--his constant desire to know our plans, his arrest
outside our tent when he was over-hearing them, the furtive
looks of hatred which from time to time one or other of us
had surprised. We were still discussing it, endeavoring to adjust
our minds to these new conditions, when a singular scene in the
plain below arrested our attention.
A man in white clothes, who could only be the surviving half-
breed, was running as one does run when Death is the pacemaker.
Behind him, only a few yards in his rear, bounded the huge
ebony figure of Zambo, our devoted negro. Even as we looked,
he sprang upon the back of the fugitive and flung his arms
round his neck. They rolled on the ground together. An instant
afterwards Zambo rose, looked at the prostrate man, and then,
waving his hand joyously to us, came running in our direction.
The white figure lay motionless in the middle of the great plain.
Our two traitors had been destroyed, but the mischief that they
had done lived after them. By no possible means could we get back
to the pinnacle. We had been natives of the world; now we were
natives of the plateau. The two things were separate and apart.
There was the plain which led to the canoes. Yonder, beyond the
violet, hazy horizon, was the stream which led back to civilization.
But the link between was missing. No human ingenuity could suggest
a means of bridging the chasm which yawned between ourselves and
our past lives. One instant had altered the whole conditions of
It was at such a moment that I learned the stuff of which my
three comrades were composed. They were grave, it is true, and
thoughtful, but of an invincible serenity. For the moment we
could only sit among the bushes in patience and wait the coming
of Zambo. Presently his honest black face topped the rocks and
his Herculean figure emerged upon the top of the pinnacle.
"What I do now?" he cried. "You tell me and I do it."
It was a question which it was easier to ask than to answer.
One thing only was clear. He was our one trusty link with the
outside world. On no account must he leave us.
"No no!" he cried. "I not leave you. Whatever come, you always
find me here. But no able to keep Indians. Already they say too
much Curupuri live on this place, and they go home. Now you
leave them me no able to keep them."
It was a fact that our Indians had shown in many ways of late
that they were weary of their journey and anxious to return.
We realized that Zambo spoke the truth, and that it would be
impossible for him to keep them.
"Make them wait till to-morrow, Zambo," I shouted; "then I can
send letter back by them."
"Very good, sarr! I promise they wait till to-morrow, said the negro.
"But what I do for you now?"
There was plenty for him to do, and admirably the faithful fellow
did it. First of all, under our directions, he undid the rope
from the tree-stump and threw one end of it across to us. It was
not thicker than a clothes-line, but it was of great strength,
and though we could not make a bridge of it, we might well find
it invaluable if we had any climbing to do. He then fastened his
end of the rope to the package of supplies which had been carried
up, and we were able to drag it across. This gave us the means
of life for at least a week, even if we found nothing else.
Finally he descended and carried up two other packets of mixed
goods--a box of ammunition and a number of other things, all of
which we got across by throwing our rope to him and hauling it back.
It was evening when he at last climbed down, with a final assurance
that he would keep the Indians till next morning.