The Lost World
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larger than an average English county. Within this confined
space a certain number of creatures, mostly types which have
passed away in the world below, have lived together for
innumerable years. Now, it is very clear to me that in so long a
period one would have expected that the carnivorous creatures,
multiplying unchecked, would have exhausted their food supply and
have been compelled to either modify their flesh-eating habits
or die of hunger. This we see has not been so. We can only
imagine, therefore, that the balance of Nature is preserved by
some check which limits the numbers of these ferocious creatures.
One of the many interesting problems, therefore, which await our
solution is to discover what that check may be and how it operates.
I venture to trust that we may have some future opportunity for
the closer study of the carnivorous dinosaurs."
"And I venture to trust we may not," I observed.
The Professor only raised his great eyebrows, as the schoolmaster
meets the irrelevant observation of the naughty boy.
"Perhaps Professor Summerlee may have an observation to make," he
said, and the two savants ascended together into some rarefied
scientific atmosphere, where the possibilities of a modification
of the birth-rate were weighed against the decline of the food
supply as a check in the struggle for existence.
That morning we mapped out a small portion of the plateau,
avoiding the swamp of the pterodactyls, and keeping to the east
of our brook instead of to the west. In that direction the
country was still thickly wooded, with so much undergrowth that
our progress was very slow.
I have dwelt up to now upon the terrors of Maple White Land; but
there was another side to the subject, for all that morning we
wandered among lovely flowers--mostly, as I observed, white or
yellow in color, these being, as our professors explained, the
primitive flower-shades. In many places the ground was
absolutely covered with them, and as we walked ankle-deep on that
wonderful yielding carpet, the scent was almost intoxicating in
its sweetness and intensity. The homely English bee buzzed
everywhere around us. Many of the trees under which we passed
had their branches bowed down with fruit, some of which were of
familiar sorts, while other varieties were new. By observing
which of them were pecked by the birds we avoided all danger of
poison and added a delicious variety to our food reserve. In the
jungle which we traversed were numerous hard-trodden paths made
by the wild beasts, and in the more marshy places we saw a
profusion of strange footmarks, including many of the iguanodon.
Once in a grove we observed several of these great creatures
grazing, and Lord John, with his glass, was able to report that
they also were spotted with asphalt, though in a different place
to the one which we had examined in the morning. What this
phenomenon meant we could not imagine.
We saw many small animals, such as porcupines, a scaly ant-eater,
and a wild pig, piebald in color and with long curved tusks.
Once, through a break in the trees, we saw a clear shoulder of
green hill some distance away, and across this a large dun-colored
animal was traveling at a considerable pace. It passed so swiftly
that we were unable to say what it was; but if it were a deer, as
was claimed by Lord John, it must have been as large as those
monstrous Irish elk which are still dug up from time to time in
the bogs of my native land.
Ever since the mysterious visit which had been paid to our camp
we always returned to it with some misgivings. However, on this
occasion we found everything in order.
That evening we had a grand discussion upon our present situation
and future plans, which I must describe at some length, as it led
to a new departure by which we were enabled to gain a more
complete knowledge of Maple White Land than might have come in
many weeks of exploring. It was Summerlee who opened the debate.
All day he had been querulous in manner, and now some remark of
Lord John's as to what we should do on the morrow brought all his
bitterness to a head.
"What we ought to be doing to-day, to-morrow, and all the time,"
said he, "is finding some way out of the trap into which we
have fallen. You are all turning your brains towards getting into
this country. I say that we should be scheming how to get out of it."
"I am surprised, sir," boomed Challenger, stroking his majestic
beard, "that any man of science should commit himself to so
ignoble a sentiment. You are in a land which offers such an
inducement to the ambitious naturalist as none ever has since the
world began, and you suggest leaving it before we have acquired
more than the most superficial knowledge of it or of its contents.
I expected better things of you, Professor Summerlee."
"You must remember," said Summerlee, sourly, "that I have a large
class in London who are at present at the mercy of an extremely
inefficient locum tenens. This makes my situation different from
yours, Professor Challenger, since, so far as I know, you have
never been entrusted with any responsible educational work."
"Quite so," said Challenger. "I have felt it to be a sacrilege
to divert a brain which is capable of the highest original
research to any lesser object. That is why I have sternly set
my face against any proffered scholastic appointment."
"For example?" asked Summerlee, with a sneer; but Lord John
hastened to change the conversation.
"I must say," said he, "that I think it would be a mighty poor
thing to go back to London before I know a great deal more of
this place than I do at present."
"I could never dare to walk into the back office of my paper and
face old McArdle," said I. (You will excuse the frankness of this
report, will you not, sir?) "He'd never forgive me for leaving
such unexhausted copy behind me. Besides, so far as I can see it
is not worth discussing, since we can't get down, even if we wanted."
"Our young friend makes up for many obvious mental lacunae by
some measure of primitive common sense, remarked Challenger.
"The interests of his deplorable profession are immaterial to us;
but, as he observes, we cannot get down in any case, so it is a
waste of energy to discuss it."
"It is a waste of energy to do anything else," growled Summerlee
from behind his pipe. "Let me remind you that we came here upon
a perfectly definite mission, entrusted to us at the meeting of
the Zoological Institute in London. That mission was to test the
truth of Professor Challenger's statements. Those statements,
as I am bound to admit, we are now in a position to endorse.
Our ostensible work is therefore done. As to the detail which
remains to be worked out upon this plateau, it is so enormous
that only a large expedition, with a very special equipment,
could hope to cope with it. Should we attempt to do so ourselves,
the only possible result must be that we shall never return with
the important contribution to science which we have already gained.
Professor Challenger has devised means for getting us on to this
plateau when it appeared to be inaccessible; I think that we should
now call upon him to use the same ingenuity in getting us back to
the world from which we came."
I confess that as Summerlee stated his view it struck me as
altogether reasonable. Even Challenger was affected by the
consideration that his enemies would never stand confuted if the
confirmation of his statements should never reach those who had
"The problem of the descent is at first sight a formidable one,"
said he, "and yet I cannot doubt that the intellect can solve it.
I am prepared to agree with our colleague that a protracted stay
in Maple White Land is at present inadvisable, and that the
question of our return will soon have to be faced. I absolutely
refuse to leave, however, until we have made at least a
superficial examination of this country, and are able to take
back with us something in the nature of a chart."
Professor Summerlee gave a snort of impatience.
"We have spent two long days in exploration," said he, "and we
are no wiser as to the actual geography of the place than when
we started. It is clear that it is all thickly wooded, and it
would take months to penetrate it and to learn the relations of
one part to another. If there were some central peak it would
be different, but it all slopes downwards, so far as we can see.
The farther we go the less likely it is that we will get any
It was at that moment that I had my inspiration. My eyes chanced
to light upon the enormous gnarled trunk of the gingko tree which
cast its huge branches over us. Surely, if its bole exceeded
that of all others, its height must do the same. If the rim of
the plateau was indeed the highest point, then why should this
mighty tree not prove to be a watchtower which commanded the
whole country? Now, ever since I ran wild as a lad in Ireland I
have been a bold and skilled tree-climber. My comrades might be
my masters on the rocks, but I knew that I would be supreme among
those branches. Could I only get my legs on to the lowest of the
giant off-shoots, then it would be strange indeed if I could not
make my way to the top. My comrades were delighted at my idea.
"Our young friend," said Challenger, bunching up the red apples
of his cheeks, "is capable of acrobatic exertions which would be
impossible to a man of a more solid, though possibly of a more
commanding, appearance. I applaud his resolution."
"By George, young fellah, you've put your hand on it!" said Lord
John, clapping me on the back. "How we never came to think of it
before I can't imagine! There's not more than an hour of daylight
left, but if you take your notebook you may be able to get some
rough sketch of the place. If we put these three ammunition
cases under the branch, I will soon hoist you on to it."
He stood on the boxes while I faced the trunk, and was gently
raising me when Challenger sprang forward and gave me such a
thrust with his huge hand that he fairly shot me into the tree.
With both arms clasping the branch, I scrambled hard with my
feet until I had worked, first my body, and then my knees, onto it.
There were three excellent off-shoots, like huge rungs of a
ladder, above my head, and a tangle of convenient branches
beyond, so that I clambered onwards with such speed that I soon
lost sight of the ground and had nothing but foliage beneath me.
Now and then I encountered a check, and once I had to shin up a
creeper for eight or ten feet, but I made excellent progress, and
the booming of Challenger's voice seemed to be a great distance