The Lost World
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thousand of these filthy creatures lay in the hollow before us.
Our professors would gladly have stayed there all day, so
entranced were they by this opportunity of studying the life of a
prehistoric age. They pointed out the fish and dead birds lying
about among the rocks as proving the nature of the food of these
creatures, and I heard them congratulating each other on having
cleared up the point why the bones of this flying dragon are
found in such great numbers in certain well-defined areas, as in
the Cambridge Green-sand, since it was now seen that, like penguins,
they lived in gregarious fashion.
Finally, however, Challenger, bent upon proving some point which
Summerlee had contested, thrust his head over the rock and nearly
brought destruction upon us all. In an instant the nearest male
gave a shrill, whistling cry, and flapped its twenty-foot span of
leathery wings as it soared up into the air. The females and
young ones huddled together beside the water, while the whole
circle of sentinels rose one after the other and sailed off into
the sky. It was a wonderful sight to see at least a hundred
creatures of such enormous size and hideous appearance all
swooping like swallows with swift, shearing wing-strokes above
us; but soon we realized that it was not one on which we could
afford to linger. At first the great brutes flew round in a huge
ring, as if to make sure what the exact extent of the danger
might be. Then, the flight grew lower and the circle narrower,
until they were whizzing round and round us, the dry, rustling
flap of their huge slate-colored wings filling the air with a
volume of sound that made me think of Hendon aerodrome upon a
"Make for the wood and keep together," cried Lord John, clubbing
his rifle. "The brutes mean mischief."
The moment we attempted to retreat the circle closed in upon us,
until the tips of the wings of those nearest to us nearly touched
our faces. We beat at them with the stocks of our guns, but
there was nothing solid or vulnerable to strike. Then suddenly
out of the whizzing, slate-colored circle a long neck shot out, and
a fierce beak made a thrust at us. Another and another followed.
Summerlee gave a cry and put his hand to his face, from which the
blood was streaming. I felt a prod at the back of my neck, and
turned dizzy with the shock. Challenger fell, and as I stooped
to pick him up I was again struck from behind and dropped on the
top of him. At the same instant I heard the crash of Lord John's
elephant-gun, and, looking up, saw one of the creatures with a
broken wing struggling upon the ground, spitting and gurgling at
us with a wide-opened beak and blood-shot, goggled eyes, like some
devil in a medieval picture. Its comrades had flown higher at the
sudden sound, and were circling above our heads.
"Now," cried Lord John, "now for our lives!"
We staggered through the brushwood, and even as we reached the
trees the harpies were on us again. Summerlee was knocked down,
but we tore him up and rushed among the trunks. Once there we
were safe, for those huge wings had no space for their sweep
beneath the branches. As we limped homewards, sadly mauled and
discomfited, we saw them for a long time flying at a great height
against the deep blue sky above our heads, soaring round and
round, no bigger than wood-pigeons, with their eyes no doubt
still following our progress. At last, however, as we reached
the thicker woods they gave up the chase, and we saw them no more.
A most interesting and convincing experience," said Challenger,
as we halted beside the brook and he bathed a swollen knee.
"We are exceptionally well informed, Summerlee, as to the habits
of the enraged pterodactyl."
Summerlee was wiping the blood from a cut in his forehead, while
I was tying up a nasty stab in the muscle of the neck. Lord John
had the shoulder of his coat torn away, but the creature's teeth
had only grazed the flesh.
"It is worth noting," Challenger continued, "that our young
friend has received an undoubted stab, while Lord John's coat
could only have been torn by a bite. In my own case, I was
beaten about the head by their wings, so we have had a remarkable
exhibition of their various methods of offence."
"It has been touch and go for our lives," said Lord John,
gravely, "and I could not think of a more rotten sort of death
than to be outed by such filthy vermin. I was sorry to fire my
rifle, but, by Jove! there was no great choice."
"We should not be here if you hadn't," said I, with conviction.
"It may do no harm," said he. "Among these woods there must be
many loud cracks from splitting or falling trees which would be
just like the sound of a gun. But now, if you are of my opinion,
we have had thrills enough for one day, and had best get back to
the surgical box at the camp for some carbolic. Who knows what
venom these beasts may have in their hideous jaws?"
But surely no men ever had just such a day since the world began.
Some fresh surprise was ever in store for us. When, following
the course of our brook, we at last reached our glade and saw
the thorny barricade of our camp, we thought that our adventures
were at an end. But we had something more to think of before we
could rest. The gate of Fort Challenger had been untouched, the
walls were unbroken, and yet it had been visited by some strange
and powerful creature in our absence. No foot-mark showed a trace
of its nature, and only the overhanging branch of the enormous
ginko tree suggested how it might have come and gone; but of its
malevolent strength there was ample evidence in the condition of
our stores. They were strewn at random all over the ground, and
one tin of meat had been crushed into pieces so as to extract
the contents. A case of cartridges had been shattered into
matchwood, and one of the brass shells lay shredded into pieces
beside it. Again the feeling of vague horror came upon our
souls, and we gazed round with frightened eyes at the dark
shadows which lay around us, in all of which some fearsome shape
might be lurking. How good it was when we were hailed by the
voice of Zambo, and, going to the edge of the plateau, saw him
sitting grinning at us upon the top of the opposite pinnacle.
"All well, Massa Challenger, all well!" he cried. "Me stay here.
No fear. You always find me when you want."
His honest black face, and the immense view before us, which
carried us half-way back to the affluent of the Amazon, helped us
to remember that we really were upon this earth in the twentieth
century, and had not by some magic been conveyed to some raw
planet in its earliest and wildest state. How difficult it was
to realize that the violet line upon the far horizon was well
advanced to that great river upon which huge steamers ran, and
folk talked of the small affairs of life, while we, marooned
among the creatures of a bygone age, could but gaze towards it
and yearn for all that it meant!
One other memory remains with me of this wonderful day, and with
it I will close this letter. The two professors, their tempers
aggravated no doubt by their injuries, had fallen out as to
whether our assailants were of the genus pterodactylus or
dimorphodon, and high words had ensued. To avoid their wrangling
I moved some little way apart, and was seated smoking upon the
trunk of a fallen tree, when Lord John strolled over in my direction.
"I say, Malone," said he, "do you remember that place where those
"A sort of volcanic pit, was it not?"
"Exactly," said I.
"Did you notice the soil?"
"But round the water--where the reeds were?"
"It was a bluish soil. It looked like clay."
"Exactly. A volcanic tube full of blue clay."
"What of that?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing, nothing," said he, and strolled back to where the
voices of the contending men of science rose in a prolonged duet,
the high, strident note of Summerlee rising and falling to the
sonorous bass of Challenger. I should have thought no more of
Lord John's remark were it not that once again that night I
heard him mutter to himself: "Blue clay--clay in a volcanic tube!"
They were the last words I heard before I dropped into an
"For once I was the Hero"
Lord John Roxton was right when he thought that some specially
toxic quality might lie in the bite of the horrible creatures
which had attacked us. On the morning after our first adventure
upon the plateau, both Summerlee and I were in great pain and
fever, while Challenger's knee was so bruised that he could
hardly limp. We kept to our camp all day, therefore, Lord John
busying himself, with such help as we could give him, in raising
the height and thickness of the thorny walls which were our
only defense. I remember that during the whole long day I was
haunted by the feeling that we were closely observed, though by
whom or whence I could give no guess.
So strong was the impression that I told Professor Challenger of
it, who put it down to the cerebral excitement caused by my fever.
Again and again I glanced round swiftly, with the conviction that
I was about to see something, but only to meet the dark tangle of
our hedge or the solemn and cavernous gloom of the great trees
which arched above our heads. And yet the feeling grew ever
stronger in my own mind that something observant and something
malevolent was at our very elbow. I thought of the Indian
superstition of the Curupuri--the dreadful, lurking spirit of
the woods--and I could have imagined that his terrible presence
haunted those who had invaded his most remote and sacred retreat.
That night (our third in Maple White Land) we had an experience
which left a fearful impression upon our minds, and made us
thankful that Lord John had worked so hard in making our
retreat impregnable. We were all sleeping round our dying fire