The Lost World
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that some sudden danger might have befallen them. But then a
simpler and more natural explanation came to my mind. It was now
broad daylight. No doubt my absence had been noticed. They had
imagined, that I was lost in the woods, and had fired this shot
to guide me home. It is true that we had made a strict resolution
against firing, but if it seemed to them that I might be in danger
they would not hesitate. It was for me now to hurry on as fast as
possible, and so to reassure them.
I was weary and spent, so my progress was not so fast as I
wished; but at last I came into regions which I knew. There was
the swamp of the pterodactyls upon my left; there in front of me
was the glade of the iguanodons. Now I was in the last belt of
trees which separated me from Fort Challenger. I raised my voice
in a cheery shout to allay their fears. No answering greeting
came back to me. My heart sank at that ominous stillness.
I quickened my pace into a run. The zareba rose before me, even
as I had left it, but the gate was open. I rushed in. In the cold,
morning light it was a fearful sight which met my eyes. Our effects
were scattered in wild confusion over the ground; my comrades had
disappeared, and close to the smouldering ashes of our fire the
grass was stained crimson with a hideous pool of blood.
I was so stunned by this sudden shock that for a time I must
have nearly lost my reason. I have a vague recollection, as
one remembers a bad dream, of rushing about through the woods
all round the empty camp, calling wildly for my companions.
No answer came back from the silent shadows. The horrible
thought that I might never see them again, that I might find
myself abandoned all alone in that dreadful place, with no
possible way of descending into the world below, that I might
live and die in that nightmare country, drove me to desperation.
I could have torn my hair and beaten my head in my despair.
Only now did I realize how I had learned to lean upon my
companions, upon the serene self-confidence of Challenger,
and upon the masterful, humorous coolness of Lord John Roxton.
Without them I was like a child in the dark, helpless and powerless.
I did not know which way to turn or what I should do first.
After a period, during which I sat in bewilderment, I set myself
to try and discover what sudden misfortune could have befallen
my companions. The whole disordered appearance of the camp
showed that there had been some sort of attack, and the rifle-
shot no doubt marked the time when it had occurred. That there
should have been only one shot showed that it had been all over
in an instant. The rifles still lay upon the ground, and one
of them--Lord John's--had the empty cartridge in the breech.
The blankets of Challenger and of Summerlee beside the fire
suggested that they had been asleep at the time. The cases of
ammunition and of food were scattered about in a wild litter,
together with our unfortunate cameras and plate-carriers, but
none of them were missing. On the other hand, all the exposed
provisions--and I remembered that there were a considerable
quantity of them--were gone. They were animals, then, and not
natives, who had made the inroad, for surely the latter would
have left nothing behind.
But if animals, or some single terrible animal, then what had
become of my comrades? A ferocious beast would surely have
destroyed them and left their remains. It is true that there was
that one hideous pool of blood, which told of violence. Such a
monster as had pursued me during the night could have carried
away a victim as easily as a cat would a mouse. In that case the
others would have followed in pursuit. But then they would
assuredly have taken their rifles with them. The more I tried to
think it out with my confused and weary brain the less could I
find any plausible explanation. I searched round in the forest,
but could see no tracks which could help me to a conclusion.
Once I lost myself, and it was only by good luck, and after an
hour of wandering, that I found the camp once more.
Suddenly a thought came to me and brought some little comfort to
my heart. I was not absolutely alone in the world. Down at the
bottom of the cliff, and within call of me, was waiting the
faithful Zambo. I went to the edge of the plateau and looked over.
Sure enough, he was squatting among his blankets beside his fire
in his little camp. But, to my amazement, a second man was seated
in front of him. For an instant my heart leaped for joy, as I
thought that one of my comrades had made his way safely down.
But a second glance dispelled the hope. The rising sun shone
red upon the man's skin. He was an Indian. I shouted loudly
and waved my handkerchief. Presently Zambo looked up, waved his
hand, and turned to ascend the pinnacle. In a short time he was
standing close to me and listening with deep distress to the story
which I told him.
"Devil got them for sure, Massa Malone," said he. "You got
into the devil's country, sah, and he take you all to himself.
You take advice, Massa Malone, and come down quick, else he get
you as well."
"How can I come down, Zambo?"
"You get creepers from trees, Massa Malone. Throw them over here.
I make fast to this stump, and so you have bridge."
"We have thought of that. There are no creepers here which could
"Send for ropes, Massa Malone."
"Who can I send, and where?"
"Send to Indian villages, sah. Plenty hide rope in Indian village.
Indian down below; send him."
"Who is he?
"One of our Indians. Other ones beat him and take away his pay.
He come back to us. Ready now to take letter, bring rope,--anything."
To take a letter! Why not? Perhaps he might bring help; but
in any case he would ensure that our lives were not spent for
nothing, and that news of all that we had won for Science
should reach our friends at home. I had two completed letters
already waiting. I would spend the day in writing a third, which
would bring my experiences absolutely up to date. The Indian could
bear this back to the world. I ordered Zambo, therefore, to come
again in the evening, and I spent my miserable and lonely day in
recording my own adventures of the night before. I also drew up
a note, to be given to any white merchant or captain of a
steam-boat whom the Indian could find, imploring them to see that
ropes were sent to us, since our lives must depend upon it.
These documents I threw to Zambo in the evening, and also my
purse, which contained three English sovereigns. These were to
be given to the Indian, and he was promised twice as much if he
returned with the ropes.
So now you will understand, my dear Mr. McArdle, how this
communication reaches you, and you will also know the truth, in
case you never hear again from your unfortunate correspondent.
To-night I am too weary and too depressed to make my plans.
To-morrow I must think out some way by which I shall keep in
touch with this camp, and yet search round for any traces of my
"A Sight which I shall Never Forget"
Just as the sun was setting upon that melancholy night I saw the
lonely figure of the Indian upon the vast plain beneath me, and I
watched him, our one faint hope of salvation, until he disappeared
in the rising mists of evening which lay, rose-tinted from the
setting sun, between the far-off river and me.
It was quite dark when I at last turned back to our stricken
camp, and my last vision as I went was the red gleam of Zambo's
fire, the one point of light in the wide world below, as was
his faithful presence in my own shadowed soul. And yet I felt
happier than I had done since this crushing blow had fallen upon
me, for it was good to think that the world should know what we
had done, so that at the worst our names should not perish with
our bodies, but should go down to posterity associated with the
result of our labors.
It was an awesome thing to sleep in that ill-fated camp; and yet
it was even more unnerving to do so in the jungle. One or the
other it must be. Prudence, on the one hand, warned me that I
should remain on guard, but exhausted Nature, on the other,
declared that I should do nothing of the kind. I climbed up on
to a limb of the great gingko tree, but there was no secure perch
on its rounded surface, and I should certainly have fallen off
and broken my neck the moment I began to doze. I got down,
therefore, and pondered over what I should do. Finally, I closed
the door of the zareba, lit three separate fires in a triangle,
and having eaten a hearty supper dropped off into a profound sleep,
from which I had a strange and most welcome awakening. In the
early morning, just as day was breaking, a hand was laid upon
my arm, and starting up, with all my nerves in a tingle and my
hand feeling for a rifle, I gave a cry of joy as in the cold gray
light I saw Lord John Roxton kneeling beside me.
It was he--and yet it was not he. I had left him calm in his
bearing, correct in his person, prim in his dress. Now he was
pale and wild-eyed, gasping as he breathed like one who has run
far and fast. His gaunt face was scratched and bloody, his
clothes were hanging in rags, and his hat was gone. I stared in
amazement, but he gave me no chance for questions. He was
grabbing at our stores all the time he spoke.
"Quick, young fellah! Quick!" he cried. "Every moment counts.
Get the rifles, both of them. I have the other two. Now, all the
cartridges you can gather. Fill up your pockets. Now, some food.
Half a dozen tins will do. That's all right! Don't wait to talk
or think. Get a move on, or we are done!"
Still half-awake, and unable to imagine what it all might mean, I
found myself hurrying madly after him through the wood, a rifle
under each arm and a pile of various stores in my hands. He dodged
in and out through the thickest of the scrub until he came to a
dense clump of brush-wood. Into this he rushed, regardless of
thorns, and threw himself into the heart of it, pulling me down
by his side.
"There!" he panted. "I think we are safe here. They'll make for
the camp as sure as fate. It will be their first idea. But this
should puzzle 'em."
"What is it all?" I asked, when I had got my breath. "Where are