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Chapter 12 It was Dreadful in the Forest

  • I have said—or perhaps I have not said, for my memory plays me sad trick_hese days—that I glowed with pride when three such men as my comrades thanke_e for having saved, or at least greatly helped, the situation. As th_oungster of the party, not merely in years, but in experience, character, knowledge, and all that goes to make a man, I had been overshadowed from th_irst. And now I was coming into my own. I warmed at the thought. Alas! fo_he pride which goes before a fall! That little glow of self-satisfaction, that added measure of self-confidence, were to lead me on that very night t_he most dreadful experience of my life, ending with a shock which turns m_eart sick when I think of it.
  • It came about in this way. I had been unduly excited by the adventure of th_ree, and sleep seemed to be impossible. Summerlee was on guard, sittin_unched over our small fire, a quaint, angular figure, his rifle across hi_nees and his pointed, goat-like beard wagging with each weary nod of hi_ead. Lord John lay silent, wrapped in the South American poncho which h_ore, while Challenger snored with a roll and rattle which reverberate_hrough the woods. The full moon was shining brightly, and the air was crispl_old. What a night for a walk! And then suddenly came the thought, "Why not?"
  • Suppose I stole softly away, suppose I made my way down to the central lake, suppose I was back at breakfast with some record of the place— would I not i_hat case be thought an even more worthy associate? Then, if Summerlee carrie_he day and some means of escape were found, we should return to London wit_irst-hand knowledge of the central mystery of the plateau, to which I alone, of all men, would have penetrated. I thought of Gladys, with her "There ar_eroisms all round us." I seemed to hear her voice as she said it. I though_lso of McArdle. What a three column article for the paper! What a foundatio_or a career! A correspondentship in the next great war might be within m_each. I clutched at a gun—my pockets were full of cartridges—and, parting th_horn bushes at the gate of our zareba, quickly slipped out. My last glanc_howed me the unconscious Summerlee, most futile of sentinels, still noddin_way like a queer mechanical toy in front of the smouldering fire.
  • I had not gone a hundred yards before I deeply repented my rashness. I ma_ave said somewhere in this chronicle that I am too imaginative to be a reall_ourageous man, but that I have an overpowering fear of seeming afraid. Thi_as the power which now carried me onwards. I simply could not slink back wit_othing done. Even if my comrades should not have missed me, and should neve_now of my weakness, there would still remain some intolerable self-shame i_y own soul. And yet I shuddered at the position in which I found myself, an_ould have given all I possessed at that moment to have been honorably free o_he whole business.
  • It was dreadful in the forest. The trees grew so thickly and their foliag_pread so widely that I could see nothing of the moon-light save that here an_here the high branches made a tangled filigree against the starry sky. As th_yes became more used to the obscurity one learned that there were differen_egrees of darkness among the trees—that some were dimly visible, whil_etween and among them there were coal-black shadowed patches, like the mouth_f caves, from which I shrank in horror as I passed. I thought of th_espairing yell of the tortured iguanodon—that dreadful cry which had echoe_hrough the woods. I thought, too, of the glimpse I had in the light of Lor_ohn's torch of that bloated, warty, blood-slavering muzzle. Even now I was o_ts hunting-ground. At any instant it might spring upon me from th_hadows—this nameless and horrible monster. I stopped, and, picking _artridge from my pocket, I opened the breech of my gun. As I touched th_ever my heart leaped within me. It was the shot-gun, not the rifle, which _ad taken!
  • Again the impulse to return swept over me. Here, surely, was a most excellen_eason for my failure—one for which no one would think the less of me. Bu_gain the foolish pride fought against that very word. I could not—mus_ot—fail. After all, my rifle would probably have been as useless as a shot- gun against such dangers as I might meet. If I were to go back to camp t_hange my weapon I could hardly expect to enter and to leave again withou_eing seen. In that case there would be explanations, and my attempt would n_onger be all my own. After a little hesitation, then, I screwed up my courag_nd continued upon my way, my useless gun under my arm.
  • The darkness of the forest had been alarming, but even worse was the white, still flood of moonlight in the open glade of the iguanodons. Hid among th_ushes, I looked out at it. None of the great brutes were in sight. Perhap_he tragedy which had befallen one of them had driven them from their feeding- ground. In the misty, silvery night I could see no sign of any living thing.
  • Taking courage, therefore, I slipped rapidly across it, and among the jungl_n the farther side I picked up once again the brook which was my guide. I_as a cheery companion, gurgling and chuckling as it ran, like the dear ol_rout-stream in the West Country where I have fished at night in my boyhood.
  • So long as I followed it down I must come to the lake, and so long as _ollowed it back I must come to the camp. Often I had to lose sight of it o_ccount of the tangled brush-wood, but I was always within earshot of it_inkle and splash.
  • As one descended the slope the woods became thinner, and bushes, wit_ccasional high trees, took the place of the forest. I could make goo_rogress, therefore, and I could see without being seen. I passed close to th_terodactyl swamp, and as I did so, with a dry, crisp, leathery rattle o_ings, one of these great creatures—it was twenty feet at least from tip t_ip—rose up from somewhere near me and soared into the air. As it passe_cross the face of the moon the light shone clearly through the membranou_ings, and it looked like a flying skeleton against the white, tropica_adiance. I crouched low among the bushes, for I knew from past experienc_hat with a single cry the creature could bring a hundred of its loathsom_ates about my ears. It was not until it had settled again that I dared t_teal onwards upon my journey.
  • The night had been exceedingly still, but as I advanced I became conscious o_ low, rumbling sound, a continuous murmur, somewhere in front of me. Thi_rew louder as I proceeded, until at last it was clearly quite close to me.
  • When I stood still the sound was constant, so that it seemed to come from som_tationary cause. It was like a boiling kettle or the bubbling of some grea_ot. Soon I came upon the source of it, for in the center of a small clearin_ found a lake—or a pool, rather, for it was not larger than the basin of th_rafalgar Square fountain—of some black, pitch-like stuff, the surface o_hich rose and fell in great blisters of bursting gas. The air above it wa_himmering with heat, and the ground round was so hot that I could hardly bea_o lay my hand on it. It was clear that the great volcanic outburst which ha_aised this strange plateau so many years ago had not yet entirely spent it_orces. Blackened rocks and mounds of lava I had already seen everywher_eeping out from amid the luxuriant vegetation which draped them, but thi_sphalt pool in the jungle was the first sign that we had of actual existin_ctivity on the slopes of the ancient crater. I had no time to examine i_urther for I had need to hurry if I were to be back in camp in the morning.
  • It was a fearsome walk, and one which will be with me so long as memory holds.
  • In the great moonlight clearings I slunk along among the shadows on th_argin. In the jungle I crept forward, stopping with a beating heart wheneve_ heard, as I often did, the crash of breaking branches as some wild beas_ent past. Now and then great shadows loomed up for an instant and wer_one—great, silent shadows which seemed to prowl upon padded feet. How often _topped with the intention of returning, and yet every time my pride conquere_y fear, and sent me on again until my object should be attained.
  • At last (my watch showed that it was one in the morning) I saw the gleam o_ater amid the openings of the jungle, and ten minutes later I was among th_eeds upon the borders of the central lake. I was exceedingly dry, so I la_own and took a long draught of its waters, which were fresh and cold. Ther_as a broad pathway with many tracks upon it at the spot which I had found, s_hat it was clearly one of the drinking-places of the animals. Close to th_ater's edge there was a huge isolated block of lava. Up this I climbed, and, lying on the top, I had an excellent view in every direction.
  • The first thing which I saw filled me with amazement. When I described th_iew from the summit of the great tree, I said that on the farther cliff _ould see a number of dark spots, which appeared to be the mouths of caves.
  • Now, as I looked up at the same cliffs, I saw discs of light in ever_irection, ruddy, clearly-defined patches, like the port-holes of a liner i_he darkness. For a moment I thought it was the lava-glow from some volcani_ction; but this could not be so. Any volcanic action would surely be down i_he hollow and not high among the rocks. What, then, was the alternative? I_as wonderful, and yet it must surely be. These ruddy spots must be th_eflection of fires within the caves—fires which could only be lit by the han_f man. There were human beings, then, upon the plateau. How gloriously m_xpedition was justified! Here was news indeed for us to bear back with us t_ondon!
  • For a long time I lay and watched these red, quivering blotches of light. _uppose they were ten miles off from me, yet even at that distance one coul_bserve how, from time to time, they twinkled or were obscured as someon_assed before them. What would I not have given to be able to crawl up t_hem, to peep in, and to take back some word to my comrades as to th_ppearance and character of the race who lived in so strange a place! It wa_ut of the question for the moment, and yet surely we could not leave th_lateau until we had some definite knowledge upon the point.
  • Lake Gladys—my own lake—lay like a sheet of quicksilver before me, with _eflected moon shining brightly in the center of it. It was shallow, for i_any places I saw low sandbanks protruding above the water. Everywhere upo_he still surface I could see signs of life, sometimes mere rings and ripple_n the water, sometimes the gleam of a great silver-sided fish in the air, sometimes the arched, slate-colored back of some passing monster. Once upon _ellow sandbank I saw a creature like a huge swan, with a clumsy body and _igh, flexible neck, shuffling about upon the margin. Presently it plunged in, and for some time I could see the arched neck and darting head undulating ove_he water. Then it dived, and I saw it no more.
  • My attention was soon drawn away from these distant sights and brought back t_hat was going on at my very feet. Two creatures like large armadillos ha_ome down to the drinking-place, and were squatting at the edge of the water, their long, flexible tongues like red ribbons shooting in and out as the_apped. A huge deer, with branching horns, a magnificent creature whic_arried itself like a king, came down with its doe and two fawns and dran_eside the armadillos. No such deer exist anywhere else upon earth, for th_oose or elks which I have seen would hardly have reached its shoulders.
  • Presently it gave a warning snort, and was off with its family among th_eeds, while the armadillos also scuttled for shelter. A new-comer, a mos_onstrous animal, was coming down the path.
  • For a moment I wondered where I could have seen that ungainly shape, tha_rched back with triangular fringes along it, that strange bird-like head hel_lose to the ground. Then it came back, to me. It was the stegosaurus—the ver_reature which Maple White had preserved in his sketch-book, and which ha_een the first object which arrested the attention of Challenger! There h_as—perhaps the very specimen which the American artist had encountered. Th_round shook beneath his tremendous weight, and his gulpings of wate_esounded through the still night. For five minutes he was so close to my roc_hat by stretching out my hand I could have touched the hideous waving hackle_pon his back. Then he lumbered away and was lost among the boulders.
  • Looking at my watch, I saw that it was half-past two o'clock, and high time, therefore, that I started upon my homeward journey. There was no difficult_bout the direction in which I should return, for all along I had kept th_ittle brook upon my left, and it opened into the central lake within _tone's-throw of the boulder upon which I had been lying. I set off, therefore, in high spirits, for I felt that I had done good work and wa_ringing back a fine budget of news for my companions. Foremost of all, o_ourse, were the sight of the fiery caves and the certainty that som_roglodytic race inhabited them. But besides that I could speak fro_xperience of the central lake. I could testify that it was full of strang_reatures, and I had seen several land forms of primeval life which we had no_efore encountered. I reflected as I walked that few men in the world coul_ave spent a stranger night or added more to human knowledge in the course o_t.
  • I was plodding up the slope, turning these thoughts over in my mind, and ha_eached a point which may have been half-way to home, when my mind was brough_ack to my own position by a strange noise behind me. It was something betwee_ snore and a growl, low, deep, and exceedingly menacing. Some strang_reature was evidently near me, but nothing could be seen, so I hastened mor_apidly upon my way. I had traversed half a mile or so when suddenly the soun_as repeated, still behind me, but louder and more menacing than before. M_eart stood still within me as it flashed across me that the beast, whateve_t was, must surely be after me. My skin grew cold and my hair rose at th_hought. That these monsters should tear each other to pieces was a part o_he strange struggle for existence, but that they should turn upon modern man, that they should deliberately track and hunt down the predominant human, was _taggering and fearsome thought. I remembered again the blood-beslobbered fac_hich we had seen in the glare of Lord John's torch, like some horrible visio_rom the deepest circle of Dante's hell. With my knees shaking beneath me, _tood and glared with starting eyes down the moonlit path which lay behind me.
  • All was quiet as in a dream landscape. Silver clearings and the black patche_f the bushes—nothing else could I see. Then from out of the silence, imminen_nd threatening, there came once more that low, throaty croaking, far loude_nd closer than before. There could no longer be a doubt. Something was on m_rail, and was closing in upon me every minute.
  • I stood like a man paralyzed, still staring at the ground which I ha_raversed. Then suddenly I saw it. There was movement among the bushes at th_ar end of the clearing which I had just traversed. A great dark shado_isengaged itself and hopped out into the clear moonlight. I say "hopped"
  • advisedly, for the beast moved like a kangaroo, springing along in an erec_osition upon its powerful hind legs, while its front ones were held bent i_ront of it. It was of enormous size and power, like an erect elephant, bu_ts movements, in spite of its bulk, were exceedingly alert. For a moment, a_ saw its shape, I hoped that it was an iguanodon, which I knew to b_armless, but, ignorant as I was, I soon saw that this was a very differen_reature. Instead of the gentle, deer-shaped head of the great three-toe_eaf-eater, this beast had a broad, squat, toad-like face like that which ha_larmed us in our camp. His ferocious cry and the horrible energy of hi_ursuit both assured me that this was surely one of the great flesh-eatin_inosaurs, the most terrible beasts which have ever walked this earth. As th_uge brute loped along it dropped forward upon its fore-paws and brought it_ose to the ground every twenty yards or so. It was smelling out my trail.
  • Sometimes, for an instant, it was at fault. Then it would catch it up agai_nd come bounding swiftly along the path I had taken.
  • Even now when I think of that nightmare the sweat breaks out upon my brow.
  • What could I do? My useless fowling-piece was in my hand. What help could _et from that? I looked desperately round for some rock or tree, but I was i_ bushy jungle with nothing higher than a sapling within sight, while I kne_hat the creature behind me could tear down an ordinary tree as though it wer_ reed. My only possible chance lay in flight. I could not move swiftly ove_he rough, broken ground, but as I looked round me in despair I saw a well- marked, hard-beaten path which ran across in front of me. We had seen severa_f the sort, the runs of various wild beasts, during our expeditions. Alon_his I could perhaps hold my own, for I was a fast runner, and in excellen_ondition. Flinging away my useless gun, I set myself to do such a half-mil_s I have never done before or since. My limbs ached, my chest heaved, I fel_hat my throat would burst for want of air, and yet with that horror behind m_ ran and I ran and ran. At last I paused, hardly able to move. For a moment _hought that I had thrown him off. The path lay still behind me. And the_uddenly, with a crashing and a rending, a thudding of giant feet and _anting of monster lungs the beast was upon me once more. He was at my ver_eels. I was lost.
  • Madman that I was to linger so long before I fled! Up to then he had hunted b_cent, and his movement was slow. But he had actually seen me as I started t_un. From then onwards he had hunted by sight, for the path showed him where _ad gone. Now, as he came round the curve, he was springing in great bounds.
  • The moonlight shone upon his huge projecting eyes, the row of enormous teet_n his open mouth, and the gleaming fringe of claws upon his short, powerfu_orearms. With a scream of terror I turned and rushed wildly down the path.
  • Behind me the thick, gasping breathing of the creature sounded louder an_ouder. His heavy footfall was beside me. Every instant I expected to feel hi_rip upon my back. And then suddenly there came a crash—I was falling throug_pace, and everything beyond was darkness and rest.
  • As I emerged from my unconsciousness—which could not, I think, have laste_ore than a few minutes—I was aware of a most dreadful and penetrating smell.
  • Putting out my hand in the darkness I came upon something which felt like _uge lump of meat, while my other hand closed upon a large bone. Up above m_here was a circle of starlit sky, which showed me that I was lying at th_ottom of a deep pit. Slowly I staggered to my feet and felt myself all over.
  • I was stiff and sore from head to foot, but there was no limb which would no_ove, no joint which would not bend. As the circumstances of my fall came bac_nto my confused brain, I looked up in terror, expecting to see that dreadfu_ead silhouetted against the paling sky. There was no sign of the monster, however, nor could I hear any sound from above. I began to walk slowly round, therefore, feeling in every direction to find out what this strange plac_ould be into which I had been so opportunely precipitated.
  • It was, as I have said, a pit, with sharply-sloping walls and a level botto_bout twenty feet across. This bottom was littered with great gobbets o_lesh, most of which was in the last state of putridity. The atmosphere wa_oisonous and horrible. After tripping and stumbling over these lumps o_ecay, I came suddenly against something hard, and I found that an uprigh_ost was firmly fixed in the center of the hollow. It was so high that I coul_ot reach the top of it with my hand, and it appeared to be covered wit_rease.
  • Suddenly I remembered that I had a tin box of wax-vestas in my pocket.
  • Striking one of them, I was able at last to form some opinion of this plac_nto which I had fallen. There could be no question as to its nature. It was _rap—made by the hand of man. The post in the center, some nine feet long, wa_harpened at the upper end, and was black with the stale blood of th_reatures who had been impaled upon it. The remains scattered about wer_ragments of the victims, which had been cut away in order to clear the stak_or the next who might blunder in. I remembered that Challenger had declare_hat man could not exist upon the plateau, since with his feeble weapons h_ould not hold his own against the monsters who roamed over it. But now it wa_lear enough how it could be done. In their narrow-mouthed caves the natives, whoever they might be, had refuges into which the huge saurians could no_enetrate, while with their developed brains they were capable of setting suc_raps, covered with branches, across the paths which marked the run of th_nimals as would destroy them in spite of all their strength and activity. Ma_as always the master.
  • The sloping wall of the pit was not difficult for an active man to climb, bu_ hesitated long before I trusted myself within reach of the dreadful creatur_hich had so nearly destroyed me. How did I know that he was not lurking i_he nearest clump of bushes, waiting for my reappearance? I took heart, however, as I recalled a conversation between Challenger and Summerlee upo_he habits of the great saurians. Both were agreed that the monsters wer_ractically brainless, that there was no room for reason in their tiny crania_avities, and that if they have disappeared from the rest of the world it wa_ssuredly on account of their own stupidity, which made it impossible for the_o adapt themselves to changing conditions.
  • To lie in wait for me now would mean that the creature had appreciated wha_ad happened to me, and this in turn would argue some power connecting caus_nd effect. Surely it was more likely that a brainless creature, acting solel_y vague predatory instinct, would give up the chase when I disappeared, and, after a pause of astonishment, would wander away in search of some other prey?
  • I clambered to the edge of the pit and looked over. The stars were fading, th_ky was whitening, and the cold wind of morning blew pleasantly upon my face.
  • I could see or hear nothing of my enemy. Slowly I climbed out and sat for _hile upon the ground, ready to spring back into my refuge if any dange_hould appear. Then, reassured by the absolute stillness and by the growin_ight, I took my courage in both hands and stole back along the path which _ad come. Some distance down it I picked up my gun, and shortly afterward_truck the brook which was my guide. So, with many a frightened backwar_lance, I made for home.
  • And suddenly there came something to remind me of my absent companions. In th_lear, still morning air there sounded far away the sharp, hard note of _ingle rifle-shot. I paused and listened, but there was nothing more. For _oment I was shocked at the thought that some sudden danger might hav_efallen them. But then a simpler and more natural explanation came to m_ind. It was now broad daylight. No doubt my absence had been noticed. The_ad imagined, that I was lost in the woods, and had fired this shot to guid_e home. It is true that we had made a strict resolution against firing, bu_f it seemed to them that I might be in danger they would not hesitate. It wa_or 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 las_ came into regions which I knew. There was the swamp of the pterodactyls upo_y left; there in front of me was the glade of the iguanodons. Now I was i_he last belt of trees which separated me from Fort Challenger. I raised m_oice in a cheery shout to allay their fears. No answering greeting came bac_o me. My heart sank at that ominous stillness. I quickened my pace into _un. 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 m_yes. Our effects were scattered in wild confusion over the ground; m_omrades had disappeared, and close to the smouldering ashes of our fire th_rass 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 los_y reason. I have a vague recollection, as one remembers a bad dream, o_ushing about through the woods all round the empty camp, calling wildly fo_y companions. No answer came back from the silent shadows. The horribl_hought that I might never see them again, that I might find myself abandone_ll alone in that dreadful place, with no possible way of descending into th_orld below, that I might live and die in that nightmare country, drove me t_esperation. I could have torn my hair and beaten my head in my despair. Onl_ow did I realize how I had learned to lean upon my companions, upon th_erene self-confidence of Challenger, and upon the masterful, humorou_oolness 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 d_irst.
  • After a period, during which I sat in bewilderment, I set myself to try an_iscover what sudden misfortune could have befallen my companions. The whol_isordered appearance of the camp showed that there had been some sort o_ttack, 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 i_n instant. The rifles still lay upon the ground, and one of them—Lor_ohn's—had the empty cartridge in the breech. The blankets of Challenger an_f 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 the_ere missing. On the other hand, all the exposed provisions—and I remembere_hat 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 woul_ave left nothing behind.
  • But if animals, or some single terrible animal, then what had become of m_omrades? A ferocious beast would surely have destroyed them and left thei_emains. It is true that there was that one hideous pool of blood, which tol_f violence. Such a monster as had pursued me during the night could hav_arried away a victim as easily as a cat would a mouse. In that case th_thers would have followed in pursuit. But then they would assuredly hav_aken their rifles with them. The more I tried to think it out with m_onfused and weary brain the less could I find any plausible explanation. _earched round in the forest, but could see no tracks which could help me to _onclusion. Once I lost myself, and it was only by good luck, and after a_our of wandering, that I found the camp once more.
  • Suddenly a thought came to me and brought some little comfort to my heart. _as not absolutely alone in the world. Down at the bottom of the cliff, an_ithin call of me, was waiting the faithful Zambo. I went to the edge of th_lateau and looked over. Sure enough, he was squatting among his blanket_eside his fire in his little camp. But, to my amazement, a second man wa_eated in front of him. For an instant my heart leaped for joy, as I though_hat one of my comrades had made his way safely down. But a second glanc_ispelled the hope. The rising sun shone red upon the man's skin. He was a_ndian. 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 wa_tanding close to me and listening with deep distress to the story which _old him.
  • "Devil got them for sure, Massa Malone," said he. "You got into the devil'_ountry, 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 fas_o this stump, and so you have bridge."
  • "We thought of that. There are no creepers here which could bear us."
  • "Send for ropes, Massa Malone."
  • "Who can I send, and where?"
  • "Send to Indian villages, sah. Plenty hide rope in Indian village. Indian dow_elow; send him."
  • "Who is he?
  • "One of our Indians. Other ones beat him and take away his pay. He come bac_o us. Ready now to take letter, bring rope,—anything."
  • To take a letter! Why not? Perhaps he might bring help; but in any case h_ould ensure that our lives were not spent for nothing, and that news of al_hat we had won for Science should reach our friends at home. I had tw_ompleted letters already waiting. I would spend the day in writing a third, which would bring my experiences absolutely up to date. The Indian could bea_his back to the world. I ordered Zambo, therefore, to come again in th_vening, and I spent my miserable and lonely day in recording my ow_dventures of the night before. I also drew up a note, to be given to an_hite 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 depen_pon 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 th_ndian, and he was promised twice as much if he returned with the ropes.
  • So now you will understand, my dear Mr. McArdle, how this communicatio_eaches you, and you will also know the truth, in case you never hear agai_rom your unfortunate correspondent. To-night I am too weary and too depresse_o make my plans. To-morrow I must think out some way by which I shall keep i_ouch with this camp, and yet search round for any traces of my unhapp_riends.