The Lost World
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when he had finished they burst into a roar of applause, waving
their rude weapons in the air. The old chief stepped forward to
us, and asked us some questions, pointing at the same time to
the woods. Lord John made a sign to him that he should wait for
an answer and then he turned to us.
"Well, it's up to you to say what you will do," said he; "for my
part I have a score to settle with these monkey-folk, and if it
ends by wiping them off the face of the earth I don't see that
the earth need fret about it. I'm goin' with our little red pals
and I mean to see them through the scrap. What do you say,
"Of course I will come."
"And you, Challenger?"
"I will assuredly co-operate."
"And you, Summerlee?"
"We seem to be drifting very far from the object of this
expedition, Lord John. I assure you that I little thought when I
left my professional chair in London that it was for the purpose
of heading a raid of savages upon a colony of anthropoid apes."
"To such base uses do we come," said Lord John, smiling. "But we
are up against it, so what's the decision?"
"It seems a most questionable step," said Summerlee,
argumentative to the last, "but if you are all going, I hardly
see how I can remain behind."
"Then it is settled," said Lord John, and turning to the chief he
nodded and slapped his rifle.
The old fellow clasped our hands, each in turn, while his men
cheered louder than ever. It was too late to advance that night,
so the Indians settled down into a rude bivouac. On all sides
their fires began to glimmer and smoke. Some of them who had
disappeared into the jungle came back presently driving a young
iguanodon before them. Like the others, it had a daub of asphalt
upon its shoulder, and it was only when we saw one of the natives
step forward with the air of an owner and give his consent to the
beast's slaughter that we understood at last that these great
creatures were as much private property as a herd of cattle, and
that these symbols which had so perplexed us were nothing more
than the marks of the owner. Helpless, torpid, and vegetarian,
with great limbs but a minute brain, they could be rounded up and
driven by a child. In a few minutes the huge beast had been cut
up and slabs of him were hanging over a dozen camp fires,
together with great scaly ganoid fish which had been speared in
Summerlee had lain down and slept upon the sand, but we others
roamed round the edge of the water, seeking to learn something
more of this strange country. Twice we found pits of blue clay,
such as we had already seen in the swamp of the pterodactyls.
These were old volcanic vents, and for some reason excited the
greatest interest in Lord John. What attracted Challenger, on
the other hand, was a bubbling, gurgling mud geyser, where some
strange gas formed great bursting bubbles upon the surface.
He thrust a hollow reed into it and cried out with delight like a
schoolboy then he was able, on touching it with a lighted match,
to cause a sharp explosion and a blue flame at the far end of
the tube. Still more pleased was he when, inverting a leathern
pouch over the end of the reed, and so filling it with the gas,
he was able to send it soaring up into the air.
"An inflammable gas, and one markedly lighter than the atmosphere.
I should say beyond doubt that it contained a considerable
proportion of free hydrogen. The resources of G. E. C. are not
yet exhausted, my young friend. I may yet show you how a great
mind molds all Nature to its use." He swelled with some secret
purpose, but would say no more.
There was nothing which we could see upon the shore which seemed to
me so wonderful as the great sheet of water before us. Our numbers
and our noise had frightened all living creatures away, and save for
a few pterodactyls, which soared round high above our heads while
they waited for the carrion, all was still around the camp. But it
was different out upon the rose-tinted waters of the central lake.
It boiled and heaved with strange life. Great slate-colored backs
and high serrated dorsal fins shot up with a fringe of silver, and
then rolled down into the depths again. The sand-banks far out
were spotted with uncouth crawling forms, huge turtles, strange
saurians, and one great flat creature like a writhing, palpitating
mat of black greasy leather, which flopped its way slowly to the lake.
Here and there high serpent heads projected out of the water, cutting
swiftly through it with a little collar of foam in front, and a
long swirling wake behind, rising and falling in graceful,
swan-like undulations as they went. It was not until one of
these creatures wriggled on to a sand-bank within a few hundred
yards of us, and exposed a barrel-shaped body and huge flippers
behind the long serpent neck, that Challenger, and Summerlee, who
had joined us, broke out into their duet of wonder and admiration.
"Plesiosaurus! A fresh-water plesiosaurus!" cried Summerlee.
"That I should have lived to see such a sight! We are blessed,
my dear Challenger, above all zoologists since the world began!"
It was not until the night had fallen, and the fires of our
savage allies glowed red in the shadows, that our two men of
science could be dragged away from the fascinations of that
primeval lake. Even in the darkness as we lay upon the strand,
we heard from time to time the snort and plunge of the huge
creatures who lived therein.
At earliest dawn our camp was astir and an hour later we had
started upon our memorable expedition. Often in my dreams have I
thought that I might live to be a war correspondent. In what
wildest one could I have conceived the nature of the campaign
which it should be my lot to report! Here then is my first
despatch from a field of battle:
Our numbers had been reinforced during the night by a fresh batch
of natives from the caves, and we may have been four or five
hundred strong when we made our advance. A fringe of scouts was
thrown out in front, and behind them the whole force in a solid
column made their way up the long slope of the bush country until
we were near the edge of the forest. Here they spread out into
a long straggling line of spearmen and bowmen. Roxton and
Summerlee took their position upon the right flank, while
Challenger and I were on the left. It was a host of the stone
age that we were accompanying to battle--we with the last word of
the gunsmith's art from St. James' Street and the Strand.
We had not long to wait for our enemy. A wild shrill clamor
rose from the edge of the wood and suddenly a body of ape-men
rushed out with clubs and stones, and made for the center of the
Indian line. It was a valiant move but a foolish one, for the
great bandy-legged creatures were slow of foot, while their
opponents were as active as cats. It was horrible to see the
fierce brutes with foaming mouths and glaring eyes, rushing and
grasping, but forever missing their elusive enemies, while arrow
after arrow buried itself in their hides. One great fellow ran
past me roaring with pain, with a dozen darts sticking from his
chest and ribs. In mercy I put a bullet through his skull, and
he fell sprawling among the aloes. But this was the only shot
fired, for the attack had been on the center of the line, and the
Indians there had needed no help of ours in repulsing it. Of all
the ape-men who had rushed out into the open, I do not think that
one got back to cover.
But the matter was more deadly when we came among the trees. For an
hour or more after we entered the wood, there was a desperate
struggle in which for a time we hardly held our own. Springing out
from among the scrub the ape-men with huge clubs broke in upon the
Indians and often felled three or four of them before they could
be speared. Their frightful blows shattered everything upon which
they fell. One of them knocked Summerlee's rifle to matchwood
and the next would have crushed his skull had an Indian not
stabbed the beast to the heart. Other ape-men in the trees above
us hurled down stones and logs of wood, occasionally dropping
bodily on to our ranks and fighting furiously until they were felled.
Once our allies broke under the pressure, and had it not been for
the execution done by our rifles they would certainly have taken
to their heels. But they were gallantly rallied by their old
chief and came on with such a rush that the ape-men began in turn
to give way. Summerlee was weaponless, but I was emptying my
magazine as quick as I could fire, and on the further flank we
heard the continuous cracking of our companion's rifles.
Then in a moment came the panic and the collapse. Screaming and
howling, the great creatures rushed away in all directions
through the brushwood, while our allies yelled in their savage
delight, following swiftly after their flying enemies. All the
feuds of countless generations, all the hatreds and cruelties of
their narrow history, all the memories of ill-usage and
persecution were to be purged that day. At last man was to be
supreme and the man-beast to find forever his allotted place.
Fly as they would the fugitives were too slow to escape from the
active savages, and from every side in the tangled woods we heard
the exultant yells, the twanging of bows, and the crash and thud
as ape-men were brought down from their hiding-places in the trees.
I was following the others, when I found that Lord John and
Challenger had come across to join us.
"It's over," said Lord John. "I think we can leave the tidying up
to them. Perhaps the less we see of it the better we shall sleep."
Challenger's eyes were shining with the lust of slaughter.
"We have been privileged," he cried, strutting about like a
gamecock, "to be present at one of the typical decisive battles
of history--the battles which have determined the fate of
the world. What, my friends, is the conquest of one nation
by another? It is meaningless. Each produces the same result.
But those fierce fights, when in the dawn of the ages the
cave-dwellers held their own against the tiger folk, or the
elephants first found that they had a master, those were the real
conquests--the victories that count. By this strange turn of
fate we have seen and helped to decide even such a contest.
Now upon this plateau the future must ever be for man."
It needed a robust faith in the end to justify such tragic means.
As we advanced together through the woods we found the ape-men
lying thick, transfixed with spears or arrows. Here and there a
little group of shattered Indians marked where one of the