The Lost World
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the professors? And who is it that is after us?"
"The ape-men," he cried. "My God, what brutes! Don't raise your
voice, for they have long ears--sharp eyes, too, but no power of
scent, so far as I could judge, so I don't think they can sniff
us out. Where have you been, young fellah? You were well out of it."
In a few sentences I whispered what I had done.
"Pretty bad," said he, when he had heard of the dinosaur and the pit.
"It isn't quite the place for a rest cure. What? But I had no idea
what its possibilities were until those devils got hold of us.
The man-eatin' Papuans had me once, but they are Chesterfields
compared to this crowd."
"How did it happen?" I asked.
"It was in the early mornin'. Our learned friends were just stirrin'.
Hadn't even begun to argue yet. Suddenly it rained apes. They came
down as thick as apples out of a tree. They had been assemblin'
in the dark, I suppose, until that great tree over our heads was
heavy with them. I shot one of them through the belly, but before
we knew where we were they had us spread-eagled on our backs. I call
them apes, but they carried sticks and stones in their hands and
jabbered talk to each other, and ended up by tyin' our hands with
creepers, so they are ahead of any beast that I have seen in
my wanderin's. Ape-men--that's what they are--Missin' Links, and
I wish they had stayed missin'. They carried off their wounded
comrade--he was bleedin' like a pig--and then they sat around us,
and if ever I saw frozen murder it was in their faces. They were
big fellows, as big as a man and a deal stronger. Curious glassy
gray eyes they have, under red tufts, and they just sat and gloated
and gloated. Challenger is no chicken, but even he was cowed.
He managed to struggle to his feet, and yelled out at them to have
done with it and get it over. I think he had gone a bit off his
head at the suddenness of it, for he raged and cursed at them
like a lunatic. If they had been a row of his favorite Pressmen
he could not have slanged them worse."
"Well, what did they do?" I was enthralled by the strange story
which my companion was whispering into my ear, while all the time
his keen eyes were shooting in every direction and his hand
grasping his cocked rifle.
"I thought it was the end of us, but instead of that it started
them on a new line. They all jabbered and chattered together.
Then one of them stood out beside Challenger. You'll smile,
young fellah, but 'pon my word they might have been kinsmen.
I couldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.
This old ape-man--he was their chief--was a sort of red Challenger,
with every one of our friend's beauty points, only just a trifle
more so. He had the short body, the big shoulders, the round chest,
no neck, a great ruddy frill of a beard, the tufted eyebrows,
the `What do you want, damn you!' look about the eyes, and the
whole catalogue. When the ape-man stood by Challenger and put his
paw on his shoulder, the thing was complete. Summerlee was a bit
hysterical, and he laughed till he cried. The ape-men laughed too--
or at least they put up the devil of a cacklin'--and they set to
work to drag us off through the forest. They wouldn't touch the
guns and things--thought them dangerous, I expect--but they carried
away all our loose food. Summerlee and I got some rough handlin'
on the way--there's my skin and my clothes to prove it--for they
took us a bee-line through the brambles, and their own hides are
like leather. But Challenger was all right. Four of them carried
him shoulder high, and he went like a Roman emperor. What's that?"
It was a strange clicking noise in the distance not unlike castanets.
"There they go!" said my companion, slipping cartridges into the
second double barrelled "Express." "Load them all up, young
fellah my lad, for we're not going to be taken alive, and don't
you think it! That's the row they make when they are excited.
By George! they'll have something to excite them if they put us up.
The `Last Stand of the Grays' won't be in it. `With their
rifles grasped in their stiffened hands, mid a ring of the dead
and dyin',' as some fathead sings. Can you hear them now?"
"Very far away."
"That little lot will do no good, but I expect their search
parties are all over the wood. Well, I was telling you my tale
of woe. They got us soon to this town of theirs--about a
thousand huts of branches and leaves in a great grove of trees
near the edge of the cliff. It's three or four miles from here.
The filthy beasts fingered me all over, and I feel as if I should
never be clean again. They tied us up--the fellow who handled me
could tie like a bosun--and there we lay with our toes up,
beneath a tree, while a great brute stood guard over us with a
club in his hand. When I say `we' I mean Summerlee and myself.
Old Challenger was up a tree, eatin' pines and havin' the time of
his life. I'm bound to say that he managed to get some fruit to
us, and with his own hands he loosened our bonds. If you'd seen
him sitting up in that tree hob-nobbin' with his twin
brother--and singin' in that rollin' bass of his, `Ring out, wild
bells,' cause music of any kind seemed to put 'em in a good
humor, you'd have smiled; but we weren't in much mood for
laughin', as you can guess. They were inclined, within limits,
to let him do what he liked, but they drew the line pretty
sharply at us. It was a mighty consolation to us all to know
that you were runnin' loose and had the archives in your keepin'.
"Well, now, young fellah, I'll tell you what will surprise you.
You say you saw signs of men, and fires, traps, and the like.
Well, we have seen the natives themselves. Poor devils they
were, down-faced little chaps, and had enough to make them so.
It seems that the humans hold one side of this plateau--over
yonder, where you saw the caves--and the ape-men hold this side,
and there is bloody war between them all the time. That's the
situation, so far as I could follow it. Well, yesterday the
ape-men got hold of a dozen of the humans and brought them in
as prisoners. You never heard such a jabberin' and shriekin' in
your life. The men were little red fellows, and had been bitten
and clawed so that they could hardly walk. The ape-men put two
of them to death there and then--fairly pulled the arm off one of
them--it was perfectly beastly. Plucky little chaps they are,
and hardly gave a squeak. But it turned us absolutely sick.
Summerlee fainted, and even Challenger had as much as he could stand.
I think they have cleared, don't you?"
We listened intently, but nothing save the calling of the birds broke
the deep peace of the forest. Lord Roxton went on with his story.
"I Think you have had the escape of your life, young fellah my lad.
It was catchin' those Indians that put you clean out of their heads,
else they would have been back to the camp for you as sure as fate
and gathered you in. Of course, as you said, they have been watchin'
us from the beginnin' out of that tree, and they knew perfectly well
that we were one short. However, they could think only of this new
haul; so it was I, and not a bunch of apes, that dropped in on you
in the morning. Well, we had a horrid business afterwards. My God!
what a nightmare the whole thing is! You remember the great bristle
of sharp canes down below where we found the skeleton of the American?
Well, that is just under ape-town, and that's the jumpin'-off place
of their prisoners. I expect there's heaps of skeletons there, if
we looked for 'em. They have a sort of clear parade-ground on
the top, and they make a proper ceremony about it. One by one the
poor devils have to jump, and the game is to see whether they are
merely dashed to pieces or whether they get skewered on the canes.
They took us out to see it, and the whole tribe lined up on the edge.
Four of the Indians jumped, and the canes went through 'em like
knittin' needles through a pat of butter. No wonder we found that
poor Yankee's skeleton with the canes growin' between his ribs.
It was horrible--but it was doocedly interestin' too. We were all
fascinated to see them take the dive, even when we thought it would
be our turn next on the spring-board.
"Well, it wasn't. They kept six of the Indians up for to-day--
that's how I understood it--but I fancy we were to be the
star performers in the show. Challenger might get off, but
Summerlee and I were in the bill. Their language is more than
half signs, and it was not hard to follow them. So I thought it
was time we made a break for it. I had been plottin' it out a
bit, and had one or two things clear in my mind. It was all on
me, for Summerlee was useless and Challenger not much better.
The only time they got together they got slangin' because they
couldn't agree upon the scientific classification of these
red-headed devils that had got hold of us. One said it was the
dryopithecus of Java, the other said it was pithecanthropus.
Madness, I call it--Loonies, both. But, as I say, I had thought
out one or two points that were helpful. One was that these
brutes could not run as fast as a man in the open. They have
short, bandy legs, you see, and heavy bodies. Even Challenger
could give a few yards in a hundred to the best of them, and you
or I would be a perfect Shrubb. Another point was that they knew
nothin' about guns. I don't believe they ever understood how the
fellow I shot came by his hurt. If we could get at our guns
there was no sayin' what we could do.
"So I broke away early this mornin', gave my guard a kick in the
tummy that laid him out, and sprinted for the camp. There I got
you and the guns, and here we are."
"But the professors!" I cried, in consternation.
"Well, we must just go back and fetch 'em. I couldn't bring 'em
with me. Challenger was up the tree, and Summerlee was not fit
for the effort. The only chance was to get the guns and try
a rescue. Of course they may scupper them at once in revenge.
I don't think they would touch Challenger, but I wouldn't answer
for Summerlee. But they would have had him in any case. Of that
I am certain. So I haven't made matters any worse by boltin'.
But we are honor bound to go back and have them out or see it
through with them. So you can make up your soul, young fellah my
lad, for it will be one way or the other before evenin'."
I have tried to imitate here Lord Roxton's jerky talk, his short,
strong sentences, the half-humorous, half-reckless tone that ran
through it all. But he was a born leader. As danger thickened
his jaunty manner would increase, his speech become more racy,
his cold eyes glitter into ardent life, and his Don Quixote
moustache bristle with joyous excitement. His love of danger,
his intense appreciation of the drama of an adventure--all the
more intense for being held tightly in--his consistent view that
every peril in life is a form of sport, a fierce game betwixt you
and Fate, with Death as a forfeit, made him a wonderful companion
at such hours. If it were not for our fears as to the fate of
our companions, it would have been a positive joy to throw myself
with such a man into such an affair. We were rising from our
brushwood hiding-place when suddenly I felt his grip upon my arm.