The Lost World
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He handed me a photograph--half-plate size.
"The unsatisfactory appearance of it is due to the fact," said he,
"that on descending the river the boat was upset and the case which
contained the undeveloped films was broken, with disastrous results.
Nearly all of them were totally ruined--an irreparable loss.
This is one of the few which partially escaped. This explanation
of deficiencies or abnormalities you will kindly accept. There was
talk of faking. I am not in a mood to argue such a point."
The photograph was certainly very off-colored. An unkind critic
might easily have misinterpreted that dim surface. It was a dull
gray landscape, and as I gradually deciphered the details of it I
realized that it represented a long and enormously high line of
cliffs exactly like an immense cataract seen in the distance,
with a sloping, tree-clad plain in the foreground.
"I believe it is the same place as the painted picture," said I.
"It is the same place," the Professor answered. "I found traces
of the fellow's camp. Now look at this."
It was a nearer view of the same scene, though the photograph was
extremely defective. I could distinctly see the isolated,
tree-crowned pinnacle of rock which was detached from the crag.
"I have no doubt of it at all," said I.
"Well, that is something gained," said he. "We progress, do we not?
Now, will you please look at the top of that rocky pinnacle?
Do you observe something there?"
"An enormous tree."
"But on the tree?"
"A large bird," said I.
He handed me a lens.
"Yes," I said, peering through it, "a large bird stands on the tree.
It appears to have a considerable beak. I should say it was a pelican."
"I cannot congratulate you upon your eyesight," said the Professor.
"It is not a pelican, nor, indeed, is it a bird. It may interest
you to know that I succeeded in shooting that particular specimen.
It was the only absolute proof of my experiences which I was able
to bring away with me."
"You have it, then?" Here at last was tangible corroboration.
"I had it. It was unfortunately lost with so much else in the
same boat accident which ruined my photographs. I clutched at it
as it disappeared in the swirl of the rapids, and part of its
wing was left in my hand. I was insensible when washed ashore,
but the miserable remnant of my superb specimen was still intact;
I now lay it before you."
From a drawer he produced what seemed to me to be the upper
portion of the wing of a large bat. It was at least two feet in
length, a curved bone, with a membranous veil beneath it.
"A monstrous bat!" I suggested.
"Nothing of the sort," said the Professor, severely. "Living, as
I do, in an educated and scientific atmosphere, I could not have
conceived that the first principles of zoology were so little known.
Is it possible that you do not know the elementary fact in
comparative anatomy, that the wing of a bird is really the
forearm, while the wing of a bat consists of three elongated
fingers with membranes between? Now, in this case, the bone is
certainly not the forearm, and you can see for yourself that this
is a single membrane hanging upon a single bone, and therefore
that it cannot belong to a bat. But if it is neither bird nor
bat, what is it?"
My small stock of knowledge was exhausted.
"I really do not know," said I.
He opened the standard work to which he had already referred me.
"Here," said he, pointing to the picture of an extraordinary
flying monster, "is an excellent reproduction of the dimorphodon,
or pterodactyl, a flying reptile of the Jurassic period. On the
next page is a diagram of the mechanism of its wing. Kindly compare
it with the specimen in your hand."
A wave of amazement passed over me as I looked. I was convinced.
There could be no getting away from it. The cumulative proof
was overwhelming. The sketch, the photographs, the narrative, and
now the actual specimen--the evidence was complete. I said so--I
said so warmly, for I felt that the Professor was an ill-used man.
He leaned back in his chair with drooping eyelids and a tolerant
smile, basking in this sudden gleam of sunshine.
"It's just the very biggest thing that I ever heard of!" said I,
though it was my journalistic rather than my scientific
enthusiasm that was roused. "It is colossal. You are a Columbus
of science who has discovered a lost world. I'm awfully sorry if
I seemed to doubt you. It was all so unthinkable. But I
understand evidence when I see it, and this should be good enough
The Professor purred with satisfaction.
"And then, sir, what did you do next?"
"It was the wet season, Mr. Malone, and my stores were exhausted.
I explored some portion of this huge cliff, but I was unable to
find any way to scale it. The pyramidal rock upon which I saw
and shot the pterodactyl was more accessible. Being something of
a cragsman, I did manage to get half way to the top of that.
From that height I had a better idea of the plateau upon the top
of the crags. It appeared to be very large; neither to east nor
to west could I see any end to the vista of green-capped cliffs.
Below, it is a swampy, jungly region, full of snakes, insects,
and fever. It is a natural protection to this singular country."
"Did you see any other trace of life?"
"No, sir, I did not; but during the week that we lay encamped at
the base of the cliff we heard some very strange noises from above."
"But the creature that the American drew? How do you account
"We can only suppose that he must have made his way to the summit
and seen it there. We know, therefore, that there is a way up.
We know equally that it must be a very difficult one, otherwise the
creatures would have come down and overrun the surrounding country.
Surely that is clear?"
"But how did they come to be there?"
"I do not think that the problem is a very obscure one," said the
Professor; "there can only be one explanation. South America is,
as you may have heard, a granite continent. At this single point
in the interior there has been, in some far distant age, a great,
sudden volcanic upheaval. These cliffs, I may remark, are
basaltic, and therefore plutonic. An area, as large perhaps as
Sussex, has been lifted up en bloc with all its living contents,
and cut off by perpendicular precipices of a hardness which
defies erosion from all the rest of the continent. What is
the result? Why, the ordinary laws of Nature are suspended.
The various checks which influence the struggle for existence in
the world at large are all neutralized or altered. Creatures survive
which would otherwise disappear. You will observe that both the
pterodactyl and the stegosaurus are Jurassic, and therefore of a
great age in the order of life. They have been artificially
conserved by those strange accidental conditions."
"But surely your evidence is conclusive. You have only to lay it
before the proper authorities."
"So in my simplicity, I had imagined," said the Professor, bitterly.
"I can only tell you that it was not so, that I was met at every
turn by incredulity, born partly of stupidity and partly of jealousy.
It is not my nature, sir, to cringe to any man, or to seek to prove
a fact if my word has been doubted. After the first I have not
condescended to show such corroborative proofs as I possess.
The subject became hateful to me--I would not speak of it.
When men like yourself, who represent the foolish curiosity
of the public, came to disturb my privacy I was unable to meet
them with dignified reserve. By nature I am, I admit, somewhat
fiery, and under provocation I am inclined to be violent. I fear
you may have remarked it."
I nursed my eye and was silent.
"My wife has frequently remonstrated with me upon the subject,
and yet I fancy that any man of honor would feel the same.
To-night, however, I propose to give an extreme example of the
control of the will over the emotions. I invite you to be
present at the exhibition." He handed me a card from his desk.
"You will perceive that Mr. Percival Waldron, a naturalist of
some popular repute, is announced to lecture at eight-thirty at
the Zoological Institute's Hall upon `The Record of the Ages.'
I have been specially invited to be present upon the platform, and
to move a vote of thanks to the lecturer. While doing so, I
shall make it my business, with infinite tact and delicacy, to
throw out a few remarks which may arouse the interest of the
audience and cause some of them to desire to go more deeply into
the matter. Nothing contentious, you understand, but only an
indication that there are greater deeps beyond. I shall hold
myself strongly in leash, and see whether by this self-restraint
I attain a more favorable result."
"And I may come?" I asked eagerly.
"Why, surely," he answered, cordially. He had an enormously
massive genial manner, which was almost as overpowering as
his violence. His smile of benevolence was a wonderful thing,
when his cheeks would suddenly bunch into two red apples, between
his half-closed eyes and his great black beard. "By all means, come.
It will be a comfort to me to know that I have one ally in the
hall, however inefficient and ignorant of the subject he may be.
I fancy there will be a large audience, for Waldron, though an
absolute charlatan, has a considerable popular following. Now, Mr.
Malone, I have given you rather more of my time than I had intended.