The Lost World
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when we were aroused--or, rather, I should say, shot out of our
slumbers--by a succession of the most frightful cries and screams
to which I have ever listened. I know no sound to which I could
compare this amazing tumult, which seemed to come from some spot
within a few hundred yards of our camp. It was as ear-splitting
as any whistle of a railway-engine; but whereas the whistle is a
clear, mechanical, sharp-edged sound, this was far deeper in volume
and vibrant with the uttermost strain of agony and horror. We clapped
our hands to our ears to shut out that nerve-shaking appeal. A cold
sweat broke out over my body, and my heart turned sick at the misery
of it. All the woes of tortured life, all its stupendous indictment
of high heaven, its innumerable sorrows, seemed to be centered and
condensed into that one dreadful, agonized cry. And then, under
this high-pitched, ringing sound there was another, more intermittent,
a low, deep-chested laugh, a growling, throaty gurgle of merriment
which formed a grotesque accompaniment to the shriek with which it
was blended. For three or four minutes on end the fearsome duet
continued, while all the foliage rustled with the rising of
startled birds. Then it shut off as suddenly as it began. For a
long time we sat in horrified silence. Then Lord John threw a bundle
of twigs upon the fire, and their red glare lit up the intent faces
of my companions and flickered over the great boughs above our heads.
"What was it?" I whispered.
"We shall know in the morning," said Lord John. "It was close
to us--not farther than the glade."
"We have been privileged to overhear a prehistoric tragedy, the
sort of drama which occurred among the reeds upon the border of
some Jurassic lagoon, when the greater dragon pinned the lesser
among the slime," said Challenger, with more solemnity than I had
ever heard in his voice. "It was surely well for man that he
came late in the order of creation. There were powers abroad in
earlier days which no courage and no mechanism of his could have met.
What could his sling, his throwing-stick, or his arrow avail him
against such forces as have been loose to-night? Even with a
modern rifle it would be all odds on the monster."
"I think I should back my little friend," said Lord John,
caressing his Express. "But the beast would certainly have a
good sporting chance."
Summerlee raised his hand.
"Hush!" he cried. "Surely I hear something?"
From the utter silence there emerged a deep, regular pat-pat.
It was the tread of some animal--the rhythm of soft but heavy pads
placed cautiously upon the ground. It stole slowly round the
camp, and then halted near our gateway. There was a low, sibilant
rise and fall--the breathing of the creature. Only our feeble
hedge separated us from this horror of the night. Each of us
had seized his rifle, and Lord John had pulled out a small bush
to make an embrasure in the hedge.
"By George!" he whispered. "I think I can see it!"
I stooped and peered over his shoulder through the gap. Yes, I
could see it, too. In the deep shadow of the tree there was a
deeper shadow yet, black, inchoate, vague--a crouching form full
of savage vigor and menace. It was no higher than a horse, but
the dim outline suggested vast bulk and strength. That hissing
pant, as regular and full-volumed as the exhaust of an engine,
spoke of a monstrous organism. Once, as it moved, I thought I
saw the glint of two terrible, greenish eyes. There was an
uneasy rustling, as if it were crawling slowly forward.
"I believe it is going to spring!" said I, cocking my rifle.
"Don't fire! Don't fire!" whispered Lord John. "The crash of a
gun in this silent night would be heard for miles. Keep it as a
"If it gets over the hedge we're done," said Summerlee, and his
voice crackled into a nervous laugh as he spoke.
"No, it must not get over," cried Lord John; "but hold your
fire to the last. Perhaps I can make something of the fellow.
I'll chance it, anyhow."
It was as brave an act as ever I saw a man do. He stooped to
the fire, picked up a blazing branch, and slipped in an instant
through a sallyport which he had made in our gateway. The thing
moved forward with a dreadful snarl. Lord John never hesitated,
but, running towards it with a quick, light step, he dashed the
flaming wood into the brute's face. For one moment I had a
vision of a horrible mask like a giant toad's, of a warty,
leprous skin, and of a loose mouth all beslobbered with fresh blood.
The next, there was a crash in the underwood and our dreadful
visitor was gone.
"I thought he wouldn't face the fire," said Lord John, laughing,
as he came back and threw his branch among the faggots.
"You should not have taken such a risk!" we all cried.
"There was nothin' else to be done. If he had got among us we
should have shot each other in tryin' to down him. On the other
hand, if we had fired through the hedge and wounded him he would
soon have been on the top of us--to say nothin' of giving
ourselves away. On the whole, I think that we are jolly well out
of it. What was he, then?"
Our learned men looked at each other with some hesitation.
"Personally, I am unable to classify the creature with any
certainty," said Summerlee, lighting his pipe from the fire.
"In refusing to commit yourself you are but showing a proper
scientific reserve," said Challenger, with massive condescension.
"I am not myself prepared to go farther than to say in general
terms that we have almost certainly been in contact to-night with
some form of carnivorous dinosaur. I have already expressed my
anticipation that something of the sort might exist upon this plateau."
"We have to bear in mind," remarked Summerlee, that there are many
prehistoric forms which have never come down to us. It would be
rash to suppose that we can give a name to all that we are likely
"Exactly. A rough classification may be the best that we can attempt.
To-morrow some further evidence may help us to an identification.
Meantime we can only renew our interrupted slumbers."
"But not without a sentinel," said Lord John, with decision.
"We can't afford to take chances in a country like this.
Two-hour spells in the future, for each of us."
"Then I'll just finish my pipe in starting the first one," said
Professor Summerlee; and from that time onwards we never trusted
ourselves again without a watchman.
In the morning it was not long before we discovered the source
of the hideous uproar which had aroused us in the night.
The iguanodon glade was the scene of a horrible butchery.
From the pools of blood and the enormous lumps of flesh
scattered in every direction over the green sward we imagined
at first that a number of animals had been killed, but on
examining the remains more closely we discovered that all this
carnage came from one of these unwieldy monsters, which had been
literally torn to pieces by some creature not larger, perhaps,
but far more ferocious, than itself.
Our two professors sat in absorbed argument, examining piece
after piece, which showed the marks of savage teeth and of
"Our judgment must still be in abeyance," said Professor
Challenger, with a huge slab of whitish-colored flesh across
his knee. "The indications would be consistent with the presence
of a saber-toothed tiger, such as are still found among the breccia
of our caverns; but the creature actually seen was undoubtedly of
a larger and more reptilian character. Personally, I should
pronounce for allosaurus."
"Or megalosaurus," said Summerlee.
"Exactly. Any one of the larger carnivorous dinosaurs would meet
the case. Among them are to be found all the most terrible types
of animal life that have ever cursed the earth or blessed a museum."
He laughed sonorously at his own conceit, for, though he had little
sense of humor, the crudest pleasantry from his own lips moved him
always to roars of appreciation.
"The less noise the better," said Lord Roxton, curtly. "We don't
know who or what may be near us. If this fellah comes back for
his breakfast and catches us here we won't have so much to laugh at.
By the way, what is this mark upon the iguanodon's hide?"
On the dull, scaly, slate-colored skin somewhere above the
shoulder, there was a singular black circle of some substance
which looked like asphalt. None of us could suggest what it
meant, though Summerlee was of opinion that he had seen
something similar upon one of the young ones two days before.
Challenger said nothing, but looked pompous and puffy, as if he
could if he would, so that finally Lord John asked his opinion direct.
"If your lordship will graciously permit me to open my mouth,
I shall be happy to express my sentiments," said he, with
elaborate sarcasm. I am not in the habit of being taken to task
in the fashion which seems to be customary with your lordship.
I was not aware that it was necessary to ask your permission
before smiling at a harmless pleasantry."
It was not until he had received his apology that our touchy
friend would suffer himself to be appeased. When at last his
ruffled feelings were at ease, he addressed us at some length from
his seat upon a fallen tree, speaking, as his habit was, as if he
were imparting most precious information to a class of a thousand.
"With regard to the marking," said he, "I am inclined to agree
with my friend and colleague, Professor Summerlee, that the
stains are from asphalt. As this plateau is, in its very nature,
highly volcanic, and as asphalt is a substance which one
associates with Plutonic forces, I cannot doubt that it exists in
the free liquid state, and that the creatures may have come in
contact with it. A much more important problem is the question
as to the existence of the carnivorous monster which has left its
traces in this glade. We know roughly that this plateau is not