The Lost World
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armadillos also scuttled for shelter. A new-comer, a most
monstrous animal, was coming down the path.
For a moment I wondered where I could have seen that ungainly
shape, that arched back with triangular fringes along it, that
strange bird-like head held close to the ground. Then it came
back, to me. It was the stegosaurus--the very creature which
Maple White had preserved in his sketch-book, and which had been
the first object which arrested the attention of Challenger!
There he was--perhaps the very specimen which the American artist
had encountered. The ground shook beneath his tremendous weight,
and his gulpings of water resounded through the still night.
For five minutes he was so close to my rock that by stretching out
my hand I could have touched the hideous waving hackles upon his back.
Then he lumbered away and was lost among the boulders.
Looking at my watch, I saw that it was half-past two o'clock, and
high time, therefore, that I started upon my homeward journey.
There was no difficulty about the direction in which I should
return for all along I had kept the little brook upon my left,
and it opened into the central lake within a stone's-throw of the
boulder upon which I had been lying. I set off, therefore, in
high spirits, for I felt that I had done good work and was
bringing back a fine budget of news for my companions. Foremost of
all, of course, were the sight of the fiery caves and the certainty
that some troglodytic race inhabited them. But besides that I
could speak from experience of the central lake. I could testify
that it was full of strange creatures, and I had seen several
land forms of primeval life which we had not before encountered.
I reflected as I walked that few men in the world could have spent
a stranger night or added more to human knowledge in the course of it.
I was plodding up the slope, turning these thoughts over in my
mind, and had reached a point which may have been half-way to
home, when my mind was brought back to my own position by a
strange noise behind me. It was something between a snore and
a growl, low, deep, and exceedingly menacing. Some strange
creature was evidently near me, but nothing could be seen, so I
hastened more rapidly upon my way. I had traversed half a mile
or so when suddenly the sound was repeated, still behind me, but
louder and more menacing than before. My heart stood still
within me as it flashed across me that the beast, whatever it
was, must surely be after ME. My skin grew cold and my hair
rose at the thought. That these monsters should tear each other
to pieces was a part of the strange struggle for existence,
but that they should turn upon modern man, that they should
deliberately track and hunt down the predominant human, was a
staggering and fearsome thought. I remembered again the
blood-beslobbered face which we had seen in the glare of Lord
John's torch, like some horrible vision from the deepest circle
of Dante's hell. With my knees shaking beneath me, I stood and
glared with starting eyes down the moonlit path which lay behind me.
All was quiet as in a dream landscape. Silver clearings and the
black patches of the bushes--nothing else could I see. Then from
out of the silence, imminent and threatening, there came once more
that low, throaty croaking, far louder and closer than before.
There could no longer be a doubt. Something was on my trail, and
was closing in upon me every minute.
I stood like a man paralyzed, still staring at the ground which I
had traversed. Then suddenly I saw it. There was movement among
the bushes at the far end of the clearing which I had just traversed.
A great dark shadow disengaged itself and hopped out into the clear
moonlight. I say "hopped" advisedly, for the beast moved like a
kangaroo, springing along in an erect position upon its powerful
hind legs, while its front ones were held bent in front of it.
It was of enormous size and power, like an erect elephant, but its
movements, in spite of its bulk, were exceedingly alert. For a
moment, as I saw its shape, I hoped that it was an iguanodon,
which I knew to be harmless, but, ignorant as I was, I soon saw
that this was a very different creature. Instead of the gentle,
deer-shaped head of the great three-toed leaf-eater, this beast
had a broad, squat, toad-like face like that which had alarmed us
in our camp. His ferocious cry and the horrible energy of his
pursuit both assured me that this was surely one of the great
flesh-eating dinosaurs, the most terrible beasts which have ever
walked this earth. As the huge brute loped along it dropped forward
upon its fore-paws and brought its nose to the ground every twenty
yards or so. It was smelling out my trail. Sometimes, for an
instant, it was at fault. Then it would catch it up again and
come bounding swiftly along the path I had taken.
Even now when I think of that nightmare the sweat breaks out upon
my brow. What could I do? My useless fowling-piece was in my hand.
What help could I get from that? I looked desperately round for
some rock or tree, but I was in a bushy jungle with nothing higher
than a sapling within sight, while I knew that the creature behind
me could tear down an ordinary tree as though it were a reed.
My only possible chance lay in flight. I could not move swiftly
over the rough, broken ground, but as I looked round me in despair
I saw a well-marked, hard-beaten path which ran across in front
of me. We had seen several of the sort, the runs of various wild
beasts, during our expeditions. Along this I could perhaps hold
my own, for I was a fast runner, and in excellent condition.
Flinging away my useless gun, I set myself to do such a half-mile
as I have never done before or since. My limbs ached, my chest
heaved, I felt that my throat would burst for want of air, and yet
with that horror behind me I ran and I ran and ran. At last I
paused, hardly able to move. For a moment I thought that I had
thrown him off. The path lay still behind me. And then suddenly,
with a crashing and a rending, a thudding of giant feet and a
panting of monster lungs the beast was upon me once more. He was
at my very heels. I was lost.
Madman that I was to linger so long before I fled! Up to then he
had hunted by scent, and his movement was slow. But he had
actually seen me as I started to run. From then onwards he had
hunted by sight, for the path showed him where I had gone. Now, as
he came round the curve, he was springing in great bounds.
The moonlight shone upon his huge projecting eyes, the row of
enormous teeth in his open mouth, and the gleaming fringe of
claws upon his short, powerful forearms. With a scream of terror
I turned and rushed wildly down the path. Behind me the thick,
gasping breathing of the creature sounded louder and louder.
His heavy footfall was beside me. Every instant I expected to feel
his grip upon my back. And then suddenly there came a crash--I was
falling through space, and everything beyond was darkness and rest.
As I emerged from my unconsciousness--which could not, I think,
have lasted more than a few minutes--I was aware of a most
dreadful and penetrating smell. Putting out my hand in the
darkness I came upon something which felt like a huge lump of
meat, while my other hand closed upon a large bone. Up above me
there was a circle of starlit sky, which showed me that I was
lying at the bottom of a deep pit. Slowly I staggered to my feet
and felt myself all over. I was stiff and sore from head to
foot, but there was no limb which would not move, no joint which
would not bend. As the circumstances of my fall came back into
my confused brain, I looked up in terror, expecting to see that
dreadful head silhouetted against the paling sky. There was no
sign of the monster, however, nor could I hear any sound from above.
I began to walk slowly round, therefore, feeling in every direction
to find out what this strange place could be into which I had been
so opportunely precipitated.
It was, as I have said, a pit, with sharply-sloping walls and a
level bottom about twenty feet across. This bottom was littered
with great gobbets of flesh, most of which was in the last state
of putridity. The atmosphere was poisonous and horrible.
After tripping and stumbling over these lumps of decay, I came
suddenly against something hard, and I found that an upright post
was firmly fixed in the center of the hollow. It was so high that
I could not reach the top of it with my hand, and it appeared to be
covered with grease.
Suddenly I remembered that I had a tin box of wax-vestas in
my pocket. Striking one of them, I was able at last to form some
opinion of this place into which I had fallen. There could be no
question as to its nature. It was a trap--made by the hand of man.
The post in the center, some nine feet long, was sharpened
at the upper end, and was black with the stale blood of the
creatures who had been impaled upon it. The remains scattered
about were fragments of the victims, which had been cut away in
order to clear the stake for the next who might blunder in.
I remembered that Challenger had declared that man could not exist
upon the plateau, since with his feeble weapons he could not hold
his own against the monsters who roamed over it. But now it was
clear enough how it could be done. In their narrow-mouthed caves
the natives, whoever they might be, had refuges into which the
huge saurians could not penetrate, while with their developed
brains they were capable of setting such traps, covered with
branches, across the paths which marked the run of the animals as
would destroy them in spite of all their strength and activity.
Man was always the master.
The sloping wall of the pit was not difficult for an active man
to climb, but I hesitated long before I trusted myself within
reach of the dreadful creature which had so nearly destroyed me.
How did I know that he was not lurking in the nearest clump of
bushes, waiting for my reappearance? I took heart, however, as I
recalled a conversation between Challenger and Summerlee upon the
habits of the great saurians. Both were agreed that the monsters
were practically brainless, that there was no room for reason in
their tiny cranial cavities, and that if they have disappeared
from the rest of the world it was assuredly on account of their
own stupidity, which made it impossible for them to adapt
themselves to changing conditions.
To lie in wait for me now would mean that the creature had
appreciated what had happened to me, and this in turn would argue
some power connecting cause and effect. Surely it was more
likely that a brainless creature, acting solely by vague
predatory instinct, would give up the chase when I disappeared,
and, after a pause of astonishment, would wander away in search
of some other prey? I clambered to the edge of the pit and
looked over. The stars were fading, the sky was whitening, and
the cold wind of morning blew pleasantly upon my face. I could
see or hear nothing of my enemy. Slowly I climbed out and sat for
a while upon the ground, ready to spring back into my refuge if any
danger should appear. Then, reassured by the absolute stillness
and by the growing light, I took my courage in both hands and
stole back along the path which I had come. Some distance down
it I picked up my gun, and shortly afterwards struck the brook
which was my guide. So, with many a frightened backward glance,
I made for home.
And suddenly there came something to remind me of my absent companions.
In the clear, still morning air there sounded far away the sharp,
hard note of a single rifle-shot. I paused and listened, but
there was nothing more. For a moment I was shocked at the thought