The Lost World
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I will tell, too, of the great nocturnal white thing--to this day
we do not know whether it was beast or reptile--which lived in a
vile swamp to the east of the lake, and flitted about with a
faint phosphorescent glimmer in the darkness. The Indians were
so terrified at it that they would not go near the place, and,
though we twice made expeditions and saw it each time, we could
not make our way through the deep marsh in which it lived. I can
only say that it seemed to be larger than a cow and had the
strangest musky odor. I will tell also of the huge bird which
chased Challenger to the shelter of the rocks one day--a great
running bird, far taller than an ostrich, with a vulture-like
neck and cruel head which made it a walking death. As Challenger
climbed to safety one dart of that savage curving beak shore off the
heel of his boot as if it had been cut with a chisel. This time
at least modern weapons prevailed and the great creature, twelve
feet from head to foot--phororachus its name, according to our
panting but exultant Professor--went down before Lord Roxton's
rifle in a flurry of waving feathers and kicking limbs, with two
remorseless yellow eyes glaring up from the midst of it. May I
live to see that flattened vicious skull in its own niche amid
the trophies of the Albany. Finally, I will assuredly give some
account of the toxodon, the giant ten-foot guinea pig, with
projecting chisel teeth, which we killed as it drank in the gray
of the morning by the side of the lake.
All this I shall some day write at fuller length, and amidst
these more stirring days I would tenderly sketch in these lovely
summer evenings, when with the deep blue sky above us we lay in
good comradeship among the long grasses by the wood and marveled
at the strange fowl that swept over us and the quaint new
creatures which crept from their burrows to watch us, while above
us the boughs of the bushes were heavy with luscious fruit, and
below us strange and lovely flowers peeped at us from among the
herbage; or those long moonlit nights when we lay out upon the
shimmering surface of the great lake and watched with wonder and
awe the huge circles rippling out from the sudden splash of some
fantastic monster; or the greenish gleam, far down in the deep
water, of some strange creature upon the confines of darkness.
These are the scenes which my mind and my pen will dwell upon in
every detail at some future day.
But, you will ask, why these experiences and why this delay, when
you and your comrades should have been occupied day and night in the
devising of some means by which you could return to the outer world?
My answer is, that there was not one of us who was not working for
this end, but that our work had been in vain. One fact we had
very speedily discovered: The Indians would do nothing to help us.
In every other way they were our friends--one might almost say our
devoted slaves--but when it was suggested that they should help us
to make and carry a plank which would bridge the chasm, or when we
wished to get from them thongs of leather or liana to weave ropes
which might help us, we were met by a good-humored, but an
invincible, refusal. They would smile, twinkle their eyes, shake
their heads, and there was the end of it. Even the old chief met
us with the same obstinate denial, and it was only Maretas, the
youngster whom we had saved, who looked wistfully at us and told
us by his gestures that he was grieved for our thwarted wishes.
Ever since their crowning triumph with the ape-men they looked
upon us as supermen, who bore victory in the tubes of strange
weapons, and they believed that so long as we remained with them
good fortune would be theirs. A little red-skinned wife and a
cave of our own were freely offered to each of us if we would but
forget our own people and dwell forever upon the plateau. So far
all had been kindly, however far apart our desires might be; but
we felt well assured that our actual plans of a descent must be
kept secret, for we had reason to fear that at the last they might
try to hold us by force.
In spite of the danger from dinosaurs (which is not great save at
night, for, as I may have said before, they are mostly nocturnal
in their habits) I have twice in the last three weeks been over
to our old camp in order to see our negro who still kept watch
and ward below the cliff. My eyes strained eagerly across the
great plain in the hope of seeing afar off the help for which we
had prayed. But the long cactus-strewn levels still stretched
away, empty and bare, to the distant line of the cane-brake.
"They will soon come now, Massa Malone. Before another week pass
Indian come back and bring rope and fetch you down." Such was the
cheery cry of our excellent Zambo.
I had one strange experience as I came from this second visit
which had involved my being away for a night from my companions.
I was returning along the well-remembered route, and had reached
a spot within a mile or so of the marsh of the pterodactyls, when
I saw an extraordinary object approaching me. It was a man who
walked inside a framework made of bent canes so that he was
enclosed on all sides in a bell-shaped cage. As I drew nearer I
was more amazed still to see that it was Lord John Roxton. When he
saw me he slipped from under his curious protection and came towards
me laughing, and yet, as I thought, with some confusion in his manner.
"Well, young fellah," said he, "who would have thought of meetin'
you up here?"
"What in the world are you doing?" I asked.
"Visitin' my friends, the pterodactyls," said he.
"Interestin' beasts, don't you think? But unsociable!
Nasty rude ways with strangers, as you may remember. So I
rigged this framework which keeps them from bein' too pressin'
in their attentions."
"But what do you want in the swamp?"
He looked at me with a very questioning eye, and I read
hesitation in his face.
"Don't you think other people besides Professors can want to
know things?" he said at last. "I'm studyin' the pretty dears.
That's enough for you."
"No offense," said I.
His good-humor returned and he laughed.
"No offense, young fellah. I'm goin' to get a young devil
chick for Challenger. That's one of my jobs. No, I don't want
your company. I'm safe in this cage, and you are not. So long,
and I'll be back in camp by night-fall."
He turned away and I left him wandering on through the wood with
his extraordinary cage around him.
If Lord John's behavior at this time was strange, that of
Challenger was more so. I may say that he seemed to possess an
extraordinary fascination for the Indian women, and that he
always carried a large spreading palm branch with which he beat
them off as if they were flies, when their attentions became
too pressing. To see him walking like a comic opera Sultan, with
this badge of authority in his hand, his black beard bristling
in front of him, his toes pointing at each step, and a train of
wide-eyed Indian girls behind him, clad in their slender drapery
of bark cloth, is one of the most grotesque of all the pictures
which I will carry back with me. As to Summerlee, he was
absorbed in the insect and bird life of the plateau, and spent
his whole time (save that considerable portion which was devoted
to abusing Challenger for not getting us out of our difficulties)
in cleaning and mounting his specimens.
Challenger had been in the habit of walking off by himself every
morning and returning from time to time with looks of portentous
solemnity, as one who bears the full weight of a great enterprise
upon his shoulders. One day, palm branch in hand, and his crowd
of adoring devotees behind him, he led us down to his hidden
work-shop and took us into the secret of his plans.
The place was a small clearing in the center of a palm grove.
In this was one of those boiling mud geysers which I have
already described. Around its edge were scattered a number of
leathern thongs cut from iguanodon hide, and a large collapsed
membrane which proved to be the dried and scraped stomach of one
of the great fish lizards from the lake. This huge sack had been
sewn up at one end and only a small orifice left at the other.
Into this opening several bamboo canes had been inserted and the
other ends of these canes were in contact with conical clay
funnels which collected the gas bubbling up through the mud of
the geyser. Soon the flaccid organ began to slowly expand and
show such a tendency to upward movements that Challenger fastened
the cords which held it to the trunks of the surrounding trees.
In half an hour a good-sized gas-bag had been formed, and the
jerking and straining upon the thongs showed that it was capable
of considerable lift. Challenger, like a glad father in the
presence of his first-born, stood smiling and stroking his beard,
in silent, self-satisfied content as he gazed at the creation of
his brain. It was Summerlee who first broke the silence.
"You don't mean us to go up in that thing, Challenger?" said he,
in an acid voice.
"I mean, my dear Summerlee, to give you such a demonstration of
its powers that after seeing it you will, I am sure, have no
hesitation in trusting yourself to it."
"You can put it right out of your head now, at once," said
Summerlee with decision, "nothing on earth would induce me to
commit such a folly. Lord John, I trust that you will not
countenance such madness?"
"Dooced ingenious, I call it," said our peer. "I'd like to see
how it works."
"So you shall," said Challenger. "For some days I have exerted
my whole brain force upon the problem of how we shall descend
from these cliffs. We have satisfied ourselves that we cannot
climb down and that there is no tunnel. We are also unable to
construct any kind of bridge which may take us back to the
pinnacle from which we came. How then shall I find a means to
convey us? Some little time ago I had remarked to our young
friend here that free hydrogen was evolved from the geyser.
The idea of a balloon naturally followed. I was, I will admit,
somewhat baffled by the difficulty of discovering an envelope to
contain the gas, but the contemplation of the immense entrails of
these reptiles supplied me with a solution to the problem.
Behold the result!"
He put one hand in the front of his ragged jacket and pointed