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Chapter 9 Who could have Foreseen it?

  • A dreadful thing has happened to us. Who could have foreseen it? I canno_oresee any end to our troubles. It may be that we are condemned to spend ou_hole lives in this strange, inaccessible place. I am still so confused that _an hardly think clearly of the facts of the present or of the chances of th_uture. To my astounded senses the one seems most terrible and the other a_lack as night.
  • No men have ever found themselves in a worse position; nor is there any use i_isclosing to you our exact geographical situation and asking our friends fo_ relief party. Even if they could send one, our fate will in all huma_robability be decided long before it could arrive in South America.
  • We are, in truth, as far from any human aid as if we were in the moon. If w_re to win through, it is only our own qualities which can save us. I have a_ompanions three remarkable men, men of great brain-power and of unshake_ourage. There lies our one and only hope. It is only when I look upon th_ntroubled faces of my comrades that I see some glimmer through the darkness.
  • Outwardly I trust that I appear as unconcerned as they. Inwardly I am fille_ith apprehension.
  • Let me give you, with as much detail as I can, the sequence of events whic_ave led us to this catastrophe.
  • When I finished my last letter I stated that we were within seven miles fro_n enormous line of ruddy cliffs, which encircled, beyond all doubt, th_lateau of which Professor Challenger spoke. Their height, as we approache_hem, seemed to me in some places to be greater than he had stated—running u_n parts to at least a thousand feet—and they were curiously striated, in _anner which is, I believe, characteristic of basaltic upheavals. Something o_he sort is to be seen in Salisbury Crags at Edinburgh. The summit showe_very sign of a luxuriant vegetation, with bushes near the edge, and farthe_ack many high trees. There was no indication of any life that we could see.
  • That night we pitched our camp immediately under the cliff—a most wild an_esolate spot. The crags above us were not merely perpendicular, but curve_utwards at the top, so that ascent was out of the question. Close to us wa_he high thin pinnacle of rock which I believe I mentioned earlier in thi_arrative. It is like a broad red church spire, the top of it being level wit_he plateau, but a great chasm gaping between. On the summit of it there gre_ne high tree. Both pinnacle and cliff were comparatively low—some five or si_undred feet, I should think.
  • "It was on that," said Professor Challenger, pointing to this tree, "that th_terodactyl was perched. I climbed half-way up the rock before I shot him. _m inclined to think that a good mountaineer like myself could ascend the roc_o the top, though he would, of course, be no nearer to the plateau when h_ad done so."
  • As Challenger spoke of his pterodactyl I glanced at Professor Summerlee, an_or the first time I seemed to see some signs of a dawning credulity an_epentance. There was no sneer upon his thin lips, but, on the contrary, _ray, drawn look of excitement and amazement. Challenger saw it, too, an_eveled in the first taste of victory.
  • "Of course," said he, with his clumsy and ponderous sarcasm, "Professo_ummerlee will understand that when I speak of a pterodactyl I mean _tork—only it is the kind of stork which has no feathers, a leathery skin, membranous wings, and teeth in its jaws." He grinned and blinked and bowe_ntil his colleague turned and walked away.
  • In the morning, after a frugal breakfast of coffee and manioc—we had to b_conomical of our stores—we held a council of war as to the best method o_scending to the plateau above us.
  • Challenger presided with a solemnity as if he were the Lord Chief Justice o_he Bench. Picture him seated upon a rock, his absurd boyish straw hat tilte_n the back of his head, his supercilious eyes dominating us from under hi_rooping lids, his great black beard wagging as he slowly defined our presen_ituation and our future movements.
  • Beneath him you might have seen the three of us—myself, sunburnt, young, an_igorous after our open-air tramp; Summerlee, solemn but still critical, behind his eternal pipe; Lord John, as keen as a razor-edge, with his supple, alert figure leaning upon his rifle, and his eager eyes fixed eagerly upon th_peaker. Behind us were grouped the two swarthy half-breeds and the littl_not of Indians, while in front and above us towered those huge, ruddy ribs o_ocks which kept us from our goal.
  • "I need not say," said our leader, "that on the occasion of my last visit _xhausted every means of climbing the cliff, and where I failed I do not thin_hat anyone else is likely to succeed, for I am something of a mountaineer. _ad none of the appliances of a rock-climber with me, but I have taken th_recaution to bring them now. With their aid I am positive I could climb tha_etached pinnacle to the summit; but so long as the main cliff overhangs, i_s vain to attempt ascending that. I was hurried upon my last visit by th_pproach of the rainy season and by the exhaustion of my supplies. Thes_onsiderations limited my time, and I can only claim that I have surveye_bout six miles of the cliff to the east of us, finding no possible way up.
  • What, then, shall we now do?"
  • "There seems to be only one reasonable course," said Professor Summerlee. "I_ou have explored the east, we should travel along the base of the cliff t_he west, and seek for a practicable point for our ascent."
  • "That's it," said Lord John. "The odds are that this plateau is of no grea_ize, and we shall travel round it until we either find an easy way up it, o_ome back to the point from which we started."
  • "I have already explained to our young friend here," said Challenger (he has _ay of alluding to me as if I were a school child ten years old), "that it i_uite impossible that there should be an easy way up anywhere, for the simpl_eason that if there were the summit would not be isolated, and thos_onditions would not obtain which have effected so singular an interferenc_ith the general laws of survival. Yet I admit that there may very well b_laces where an expert human climber may reach the summit, and yet a cumbrou_nd heavy animal be unable to descend. It is certain that there is a poin_here an ascent is possible."
  • "How do you know that, sir?" asked Summerlee, sharply.
  • "Because my predecessor, the American Maple White, actually made such a_scent. How otherwise could he have seen the monster which he sketched in hi_otebook?"
  • "There you reason somewhat ahead of the proved facts," said the stubbor_ummerlee. "I admit your plateau, because I have seen it; but I have not a_et satisfied myself that it contains any form of life whatever."
  • "What you admit, sir, or what you do not admit, is really of inconceivabl_mall importance. I am glad to perceive that the plateau itself has actuall_btruded itself upon your intelligence." He glanced up at it, and then, to ou_mazement, he sprang from his rock, and, seizing Summerlee by the neck, h_ilted his face into the air. "Now sir!" he shouted, hoarse with excitement.
  • "Do I help you to realize that the plateau contains some animal life?"
  • I have said that a thick fringe of green overhung the edge of the cliff. Ou_f this there had emerged a black, glistening object. As it came slowly fort_nd overhung the chasm, we saw that it was a very large snake with a peculia_lat, spade-like head. It wavered and quivered above us for a minute, th_orning sun gleaming upon its sleek, sinuous coils. Then it slowly dre_nwards and disappeared.
  • Summerlee had been so interested that he had stood unresisting whil_hallenger tilted his head into the air. Now he shook his colleague off an_ame back to his dignity.
  • "I should be glad, Professor Challenger," said he, "if you could see your wa_o make any remarks which may occur to you without seizing me by the chin.
  • Even the appearance of a very ordinary rock python does not appear to justif_uch a liberty."
  • "But there is life upon the plateau all the same," his colleague replied i_riumph. "And now, having demonstrated this important conclusion so that it i_lear to anyone, however prejudiced or obtuse, I am of opinion that we canno_o better than break up our camp and travel to westward until we find som_eans of ascent."
  • The ground at the foot of the cliff was rocky and broken so that the going wa_low and difficult. Suddenly we came, however, upon something which cheere_ur hearts. It was the site of an old encampment, with several empty Chicag_eat tins, a bottle labeled "Brandy," a broken tin-opener, and a quantity o_ther travelers' debris. A crumpled, disintegrated newspaper revealed itsel_s the Chicago Democrat, though the date had been obliterated.
  • "Not mine," said Challenger. "It must be Maple White's."
  • Lord John had been gazing curiously at a great tree-fern which overshadowe_he encampment. "I say, look at this," said he. "I believe it is meant for _ign-post."
  • A slip of hard wood had been nailed to the tree in such a way as to point t_he westward.
  • "Most certainly a sign-post," said Challenger. "What else? Finding himsel_pon a dangerous errand, our pioneer has left this sign so that any part_hich follows him may know the way he has taken. Perhaps we shall come upo_ome other indications as we proceed."
  • We did indeed, but they were of a terrible and most unexpected nature.
  • Immediately beneath the cliff there grew a considerable patch of high bamboo, like that which we had traversed in our journey. Many of these stems wer_wenty feet high, with sharp, strong tops, so that even as they stood the_ade formidable spears. We were passing along the edge of this cover when m_ye was caught by the gleam of something white within it. Thrusting in my hea_etween the stems, I found myself gazing at a fleshless skull. The whol_keleton was there, but the skull had detached itself and lay some feet neare_o the open.
  • With a few blows from the machetes of our Indians we cleared the spot and wer_ble to study the details of this old tragedy. Only a few shreds of clothe_ould still be distinguished, but there were the remains of boots upon th_ony feet, and it was very clear that the dead man was a European. A gol_atch by Hudson, of New York, and a chain which held a stylographic pen, la_mong the bones. There was also a silver cigarette-case, with "J. C., from A.
  • E. S.," upon the lid. The state of the metal seemed to show that th_atastrophe had occurred no great time before.
  • "Who can he be?" asked Lord John. "Poor devil! every bone in his body seems t_e broken."
  • "And the bamboo grows through his smashed ribs," said Summerlee. "It is _ast-growing plant, but it is surely inconceivable that this body could hav_een here while the canes grew to be twenty feet in length."
  • "As to the man's identity," said Professor Challenger, "I have no doub_hatever upon that point. As I made my way up the river before I reached yo_t the fazenda I instituted very particular inquiries about Maple White. A_ara they knew nothing. Fortunately, I had a definite clew, for there was _articular picture in his sketch-book which showed him taking lunch with _ertain ecclesiastic at Rosario. This priest I was able to find, and though h_roved a very argumentative fellow, who took it absurdly amiss that I shoul_oint out to him the corrosive effect which modern science must have upon hi_eliefs, he none the less gave me some positive information. Maple Whit_assed Rosario four years ago, or two years before I saw his dead body. He wa_ot alone at the time, but there was a friend, an American named James Colver, who remained in the boat and did not meet this ecclesiastic. I think, therefore, that there can be no doubt that we are now looking upon the remain_f this James Colver."
  • "Nor," said Lord John, "is there much doubt as to how he met his death. He ha_allen or been chucked from the top, and so been impaled. How else could h_ome by his broken bones, and how could he have been stuck through by thes_anes with their points so high above our heads?"
  • A hush came over us as we stood round these shattered remains and realized th_ruth of Lord John Roxton's words. The beetling head of the cliff projecte_ver the cane-brake. Undoubtedly he had fallen from above. But had he fallen?
  • Had it been an accident? Or—already ominous and terrible possibilities bega_o form round that unknown land.
  • We moved off in silence, and continued to coast round the line of cliffs, which were as even and unbroken as some of those monstrous Antarctic ice- fields which I have seen depicted as stretching from horizon to horizon an_owering high above the mast-heads of the exploring vessel.
  • In five miles we saw no rift or break. And then suddenly we perceive_omething which filled us with new hope. In a hollow of the rock, protecte_rom rain, there was drawn a rough arrow in chalk, pointing still to th_estwards.
  • "Maple White again," said Professor Challenger. "He had some presentiment tha_orthy footsteps would follow close behind him."
  • "He had chalk, then?"
  • "A box of colored chalks was among the effects I found in his knapsack. _emember that the white one was worn to a stump."
  • "That is certainly good evidence," said Summerlee. "We can only accept hi_uidance and follow on to the westward."
  • We had proceeded some five more miles when again we saw a white arrow upon th_ocks. It was at a point where the face of the cliff was for the first tim_plit into a narrow cleft. Inside the cleft was a second guidance mark, whic_ointed right up it with the tip somewhat elevated, as if the spot indicate_ere above the level of the ground.
  • It was a solemn place, for the walls were so gigantic and the slit of blue sk_o narrow and so obscured by a double fringe of verdure, that only a dim an_hadowy light penetrated to the bottom. We had had no food for many hours, an_ere very weary with the stony and irregular journey, but our nerves were to_trung to allow us to halt. We ordered the camp to be pitched, however, and, leaving the Indians to arrange it, we four, with the two half-breeds, proceeded up the narrow gorge.
  • It was not more than forty feet across at the mouth, but it rapidly close_ntil it ended in an acute angle, too straight and smooth for an ascent.
  • Certainly it was not this which our pioneer had attempted to indicate. We mad_ur way back—the whole gorge was not more than a quarter of a mile deep—an_hen suddenly the quick eyes of Lord John fell upon what we were seeking. Hig_p above our heads, amid the dark shadows, there was one circle of deepe_loom. Surely it could only be the opening of a cave.
  • The base of the cliff was heaped with loose stones at the spot, and it was no_ifficult to clamber up. When we reached it, all doubt was removed. Not onl_as it an opening into the rock, but on the side of it there was marked onc_gain the sign of the arrow. Here was the point, and this the means by whic_aple White and his ill-fated comrade had made their ascent.
  • We were too excited to return to the camp, but must make our first exploratio_t once. Lord John had an electric torch in his knapsack, and this had t_erve us as light. He advanced, throwing his little clear circlet of yello_adiance before him, while in single file we followed at his heels.
  • The cave had evidently been water-worn, the sides being smooth and the floo_overed with rounded stones. It was of such a size that a single man coul_ust fit through by stooping. For fifty yards it ran almost straight into th_ock, and then it ascended at an angle of forty-five. Presently this inclin_ecame even steeper, and we found ourselves climbing upon hands and knee_mong loose rubble which slid from beneath us. Suddenly an exclamation brok_rom Lord Roxton.
  • "It's blocked!" said he.
  • Clustering behind him we saw in the yellow field of light a wall of broke_asalt which extended to the ceiling.
  • "The roof has fallen in!"
  • In vain we dragged out some of the pieces. The only effect was that the large_nes became detached and threatened to roll down the gradient and crush us. I_as evident that the obstacle was far beyond any efforts which we could mak_o remove it. The road by which Maple White had ascended was no longe_vailable.
  • Too much cast down to speak, we stumbled down the dark tunnel and made our wa_ack to the camp.
  • One incident occurred, however, before we left the gorge, which is o_mportance in view of what came afterwards.
  • We had gathered in a little group at the bottom of the chasm, some forty fee_eneath the mouth of the cave, when a huge rock rolled suddenly downwards—an_hot past us with tremendous force. It was the narrowest escape for one or al_f us. We could not ourselves see whence the rock had come, but our half-bree_ervants, who were still at the opening of the cave, said that it had flow_ast them, and must therefore have fallen from the summit. Looking upwards, w_ould see no sign of movement above us amidst the green jungle which toppe_he cliff. There could be little doubt, however, that the stone was aimed a_s, so the incident surely pointed to humanity—and malevolent humanity—upo_he plateau.
  • We withdrew hurriedly from the chasm, our minds full of this new developmen_nd its bearing upon our plans. The situation was difficult enough before, bu_f the obstructions of Nature were increased by the deliberate opposition o_an, then our case was indeed a hopeless one. And yet, as we looked up at tha_eautiful fringe of verdure only a few hundreds of feet above our heads, ther_as not one of us who could conceive the idea of returning to London until w_ad explored it to its depths.
  • On discussing the situation, we determined that our best course was t_ontinue to coast round the plateau in the hope of finding some other means o_eaching the top. The line of cliffs, which had decreased considerably i_eight, had already begun to trend from west to north, and if we could tak_his as representing the arc of a circle, the whole circumference could not b_ery great. At the worst, then, we should be back in a few days at ou_tarting-point.
  • We made a march that day which totaled some two-and-twenty miles, without an_hange in our prospects. I may mention that our aneroid shows us that in th_ontinual incline which we have ascended since we abandoned our canoes we hav_isen to no less than three thousand feet above sea-level. Hence there is _onsiderable change both in the temperature and in the vegetation. We hav_haken off some of that horrible insect life which is the bane of tropica_ravel. A few palms still survive, and many tree-ferns, but the Amazonia_rees have been all left behind. It was pleasant to see the convolvulus, th_assion-flower, and the begonia, all reminding me of home, here among thes_nhospitable rocks. There was a red begonia just the same color as one that i_ept in a pot in the window of a certain villa in Streatham—but I am driftin_nto private reminiscence.
  • That night—I am still speaking of the first day of our circumnavigation of th_lateau—a great experience awaited us, and one which for ever set at rest an_oubt which we could have had as to the wonders so near us.
  • You will realize as you read it, my dear Mr. McArdle, and possibly for th_irst time that the paper has not sent me on a wild-goose chase, and tha_here is inconceivably fine copy waiting for the world whenever we have th_rofessor's leave to make use of it. I shall not dare to publish thes_rticles unless I can bring back my proofs to England, or I shall be hailed a_he journalistic Munchausen of all time. I have no doubt that you feel th_ame way yourself, and that you would not care to stake the whole credit o_he Gazette upon this adventure until we can meet the chorus of criticism an_cepticism which such articles must of necessity elicit. So this wonderfu_ncident, which would make such a headline for the old paper, must still wai_ts turn in the editorial drawer.
  • And yet it was all over in a flash, and there was no sequel to it, save in ou_wn convictions.
  • What occurred was this. Lord John had shot an ajouti—which is a small, pig- like animal—and, half of it having been given to the Indians, we were cookin_he other half upon our fire. There is a chill in the air after dark, and w_ad all drawn close to the blaze. The night was moonless, but there were som_tars, and one could see for a little distance across the plain. Well, suddenly out of the darkness, out of the night, there swooped something with _wish like an aeroplane. The whole group of us were covered for an instant b_ canopy of leathery wings, and I had a momentary vision of a long, snake-lik_eck, a fierce, red, greedy eye, and a great snapping beak, filled, to m_mazement, with little, gleaming teeth. The next instant it was gone—and s_as our dinner. A huge black shadow, twenty feet across, skimmed up into th_ir; for an instant the monster wings blotted out the stars, and then i_anished over the brow of the cliff above us. We all sat in amazed silenc_ound the fire, like the heroes of Virgil when the Harpies came down upo_hem. It was Summerlee who was the first to speak.
  • "Professor Challenger," said he, in a solemn voice, which quavered wit_motion, "I owe you an apology. Sir, I am very much in the wrong, and I be_hat you will forget what is past."
  • It was handsomely said, and the two men for the first time shook hands. S_uch we have gained by this clear vision of our first pterodactyl. It wa_orth a stolen supper to bring two such men together.
  • But if prehistoric life existed upon the plateau it was not superabundant, fo_e had no further glimpse of it during the next three days. During this tim_e traversed a barren and forbidding country, which alternated between ston_esert and desolate marshes full of many wild-fowl, upon the north and east o_he cliffs. From that direction the place is really inaccessible, and, were i_ot for a hardish ledge which runs at the very base of the precipice, w_hould have had to turn back. Many times we were up to our waists in the slim_nd blubber of an old, semi-tropical swamp. To make matters worse, the plac_eemed to be a favorite breeding-place of the Jaracaca snake, the mos_enomous and aggressive in South America. Again and again these horribl_reatures came writhing and springing towards us across the surface of thi_utrid bog, and it was only by keeping our shot-guns for ever ready that w_ould feel safe from them. One funnel-shaped depression in the morass, of _ivid green in color from some lichen which festered in it, will always remai_s a nightmare memory in my mind. It seems to have been a special nest o_hese vermins, and the slopes were alive with them, all writhing in ou_irection, for it is a peculiarity of the Jaracaca that he will always attac_an at first sight. There were too many for us to shoot, so we fairly took t_ur heels and ran until we were exhausted. I shall always remember as w_ooked back how far behind we could see the heads and necks of our horribl_ursuers rising and falling amid the reeds. Jaracaca Swamp we named it in th_ap which we are constructing.
  • The cliffs upon the farther side had lost their ruddy tint, being chocolate- brown in color; the vegetation was more scattered along the top of them, an_hey had sunk to three or four hundred feet in height, but in no place did w_ind any point where they could be ascended. If anything, they were mor_mpossible than at the first point where we had met them. Their absolut_teepness is indicated in the photograph which I took over the stony desert.
  • "Surely," said I, as we discussed the situation, "the rain must find its wa_own somehow. There are bound to be water-channels in the rocks."
  • "Our young friend has glimpses of lucidity," said Professor Challenger, patting me upon the shoulder.
  • "The rain must go somewhere," I repeated.
  • "He keeps a firm grip upon actuality. The only drawback is that we hav_onclusively proved by ocular demonstration that there are no water channel_own the rocks."
  • "Where, then, does it go?" I persisted.
  • "I think it may be fairly assumed that if it does not come outwards it mus_un inwards."
  • "Then there is a lake in the center."
  • "So I should suppose."
  • "It is more than likely that the lake may be an old crater," said Summerlee.
  • "The whole formation is, of course, highly volcanic. But, however that may be, I should expect to find the surface of the plateau slope inwards with _onsiderable sheet of water in the center, which may drain off, by som_ubterranean channel, into the marshes of the Jaracaca Swamp."
  • "Or evaporation might preserve an equilibrium," remarked Challenger, and th_wo learned men wandered off into one of their usual scientific arguments, which were as comprehensible as Chinese to the layman.
  • On the sixth day we completed our first circuit of the cliffs, and foun_urselves back at the first camp, beside the isolated pinnacle of rock. W_ere a disconsolate party, for nothing could have been more minute than ou_nvestigation, and it was absolutely certain that there was no single poin_here the most active human being could possibly hope to scale the cliff. Th_lace which Maple White's chalk-marks had indicated as his own means of acces_as now entirely impassable.
  • What were we to do now? Our stores of provisions, supplemented by our guns, were holding out well, but the day must come when they would nee_eplenishment. In a couple of months the rains might be expected, and w_hould be washed out of our camp. The rock was harder than marble, and an_ttempt at cutting a path for so great a height was more than our time o_esources would admit. No wonder that we looked gloomily at each other tha_ight, and sought our blankets with hardly a word exchanged. I remember tha_s I dropped off to sleep my last recollection was that Challenger wa_quatting, like a monstrous bull-frog, by the fire, his huge head in hi_ands, sunk apparently in the deepest thought, and entirely oblivious to th_ood-night which I wished him.
  • But it was a very different Challenger who greeted us in the morning—_hallenger with contentment and self-congratulation shining from his whol_erson. He faced us as we assembled for breakfast with a deprecating fals_odesty in his eyes, as who should say, "I know that I deserve all that yo_an say, but I pray you to spare my blushes by not saying it." His bear_ristled exultantly, his chest was thrown out, and his hand was thrust int_he front of his jacket. So, in his fancy, may he see himself sometimes, gracing the vacant pedestal in Trafalgar Square, and adding one more to th_orrors of the London streets.
  • "Eureka!" he cried, his teeth shining through his beard. "Gentlemen, you ma_ongratulate me and we may congratulate each other. The problem is solved."
  • "You have found a way up?"
  • "I venture to think so."
  • "And where?"
  • For answer he pointed to the spire-like pinnacle upon our right.
  • Our faces—or mine, at least—fell as we surveyed it. That it could be climbe_e had our companion's assurance. But a horrible abyss lay between it and th_lateau.
  • "We can never get across," I gasped.
  • "We can at least all reach the summit," said he. "When we are up I may be abl_o show you that the resources of an inventive mind are not yet exhausted."
  • After breakfast we unpacked the bundle in which our leader had brought hi_limbing accessories. From it he took a coil of the strongest and lightes_ope, a hundred and fifty feet in length, with climbing irons, clamps, an_ther devices. Lord John was an experienced mountaineer, and Summerlee ha_one some rough climbing at various times, so that I was really the novice a_ock-work of the party; but my strength and activity may have made up for m_ant of experience.
  • It was not in reality a very stiff task, though there were moments which mad_y hair bristle upon my head. The first half was perfectly easy, but fro_here upwards it became continually steeper until, for the last fifty feet, w_ere literally clinging with our fingers and toes to tiny ledges and crevice_n the rock. I could not have accomplished it, nor could Summerlee, i_hallenger had not gained the summit (it was extraordinary to see suc_ctivity in so unwieldy a creature) and there fixed the rope round the trun_f the considerable tree which grew there. With this as our support, we wer_oon able to scramble up the jagged wall until we found ourselves upon th_mall grassy platform, some twenty-five feet each way, which formed th_ummit.
  • The first impression which I received when I had recovered my breath was o_he extraordinary view over the country which we had traversed. The whol_razilian plain seemed to lie beneath us, extending away and away until i_nded in dim blue mists upon the farthest sky-line. In the foreground was th_ong slope, strewn with rocks and dotted with tree-ferns; farther off in th_iddle distance, looking over the saddle-back hill, I could just see th_ellow and green mass of bamboos through which we had passed; and then, gradually, the vegetation increased until it formed the huge forest whic_xtended as far as the eyes could reach, and for a good two thousand mile_eyond.
  • I was still drinking in this wonderful panorama when the heavy hand of th_rofessor fell upon my shoulder.
  • "This way, my young friend," said he; "vestigia nulla retrorsum. Never loo_earwards, but always to our glorious goal."
  • The level of the plateau, when I turned, was exactly that on which we stood, and the green bank of bushes, with occasional trees, was so near that it wa_ifficult to realize how inaccessible it remained. At a rough guess the gul_as forty feet across, but, so far as I could see, it might as well have bee_orty miles. I placed one arm round the trunk of the tree and leaned over th_byss. Far down were the small dark figures of our servants, looking up at us.
  • The wall was absolutely precipitous, as was that which faced me.
  • "This is indeed curious," said the creaking voice of Professor Summerlee.
  • I turned, and found that he was examining with great interest the tree t_hich I clung. That smooth bark and those small, ribbed leaves seemed familia_o my eyes. "Why," I cried, "it's a beech!"
  • "Exactly," said Summerlee. "A fellow-countryman in a far land."
  • "Not only a fellow-countryman, my good sir," said Challenger, "but also, if _ay be allowed to enlarge your simile, an ally of the first value. This beec_ree will be our saviour."
  • "By George!" cried Lord John, "a bridge!"
  • "Exactly, my friends, a bridge! It is not for nothing that I expended an hou_ast night in focusing my mind upon the situation. I have some recollection o_nce remarking to our young friend here that G. E. C. is at his best when hi_ack is to the wall. Last night you will admit that all our backs were to th_all. But where will-power and intellect go together, there is always a wa_ut. A drawbridge had to be found which could be dropped across the abyss.
  • Behold it!"
  • It was certainly a brilliant idea. The tree was a good sixty feet in height, and if it only fell the right way it would easily cross the chasm. Challenge_ad slung the camp axe over his shoulder when he ascended. Now he handed it t_e.
  • "Our young friend has the thews and sinews," said he. "I think he will be th_ost useful at this task. I must beg, however, that you will kindly refrai_rom thinking for yourself, and that you will do exactly what you are told."
  • Under his direction I cut such gashes in the sides of the trees as woul_nsure that it should fall as we desired. It had already a strong, natura_ilt in the direction of the plateau, so that the matter was not difficult.
  • Finally I set to work in earnest upon the trunk, taking turn and turn wit_ord John. In a little over an hour there was a loud crack, the tree swaye_orward, and then crashed over, burying its branches among the bushes on th_arther side. The severed trunk rolled to the very edge of our platform, an_or one terrible second we all thought it was over. It balanced itself, however, a few inches from the edge, and there was our bridge to the unknown.
  • All of us, without a word, shook hands with Professor Challenger, who raise_is straw hat and bowed deeply to each in turn.
  • "I claim the honor," said he, "to be the first to cross to the unknown land—_itting subject, no doubt, for some future historical painting."
  • He had approached the bridge when Lord John laid his hand upon his coat.
  • "My dear chap," said he, "I really cannot allow it."
  • "Cannot allow it, sir!" The head went back and the beard forward.
  • "When it is a matter of science, don't you know, I follow your lead becaus_ou are by way of bein' a man of science. But it's up to you to follow me whe_ou come into my department."
  • "Your department, sir?"
  • "We all have our professions, and soldierin' is mine. We are, accordin' to m_deas, invadin' a new country, which may or may not be chock-full of enemie_f sorts. To barge blindly into it for want of a little common sense an_atience isn't my notion of management."
  • The remonstrance was too reasonable to be disregarded. Challenger tossed hi_ead and shrugged his heavy shoulders.
  • "Well, sir, what do you propose?"
  • "For all I know there may be a tribe of cannibals waitin' for lunch-time amon_hose very bushes," said Lord John, looking across the bridge. "It's better t_earn wisdom before you get into a cookin'-pot; so we will content ourselve_ith hopin' that there is no trouble waitin' for us, and at the same time w_ill act as if there were. Malone and I will go down again, therefore, and w_ill fetch up the four rifles, together with Gomez and the other. One man ca_hen go across and the rest will cover him with guns, until he sees that it i_afe for the whole crowd to come along."
  • Challenger sat down upon the cut stump and groaned his impatience; bu_ummerlee and I were of one mind that Lord John was our leader when suc_ractical details were in question. The climb was a more simple thing now tha_he rope dangled down the face of the worst part of the ascent. Within an hou_e had brought up the rifles and a shot-gun. The half-breeds had ascende_lso, and under Lord John's orders they had carried up a bale of provisions i_ase our first exploration should be a long one. We had each bandoliers o_artridges.
  • "Now, Challenger, if you really insist upon being the first man in," said Lor_ohn, when every preparation was complete.
  • "I am much indebted to you for your gracious permission," said the angr_rofessor; for never was a man so intolerant of every form of authority.
  • "Since you are good enough to allow it, I shall most certainly take it upo_yself to act as pioneer upon this occasion."
  • Seating himself with a leg overhanging the abyss on each side, and his hatche_lung upon his back, Challenger hopped his way across the trunk and was soo_t the other side. He clambered up and waved his arms in the air.
  • "At last!" he cried; "at last!"
  • I gazed anxiously at him, with a vague expectation that some terrible fat_ould dart at him from the curtain of green behind him. But all was quiet, save that a strange, many- colored bird flew up from under his feet an_anished among the trees.
  • Summerlee was the second. His wiry energy is wonderful in so frail a frame. H_nsisted upon having two rifles slung upon his back, so that both Professor_ere armed when he had made his transit. I came next, and tried hard not t_ook down into the horrible gulf over which I was passing. Summerlee held ou_he butt-end of his rifle, and an instant later I was able to grasp his hand.
  • As to Lord John, he walked across—actually walked without support! He mus_ave nerves of iron.
  • And there we were, the four of us, upon the dreamland, the lost world, o_aple White. To all of us it seemed the moment of our supreme triumph. Wh_ould have guessed that it was the prelude to our supreme disaster? Let me sa_n a few words how the crushing blow fell upon us.
  • We had turned away from the edge, and had penetrated about fifty yards o_lose brushwood, when there came a frightful rending crash from behind us.
  • With one impulse we rushed back the way that we had come. The bridge was gone!
  • Far down at the base of the cliff I saw, as I looked over, a tangled mass o_ranches and splintered trunk. It was our beech tree. Had the edge of th_latform crumbled and let it through? For a moment this explanation was in al_ur minds. The next, from the farther side of the rocky pinnacle before us _warthy face, the face of Gomez the half-breed, was slowly protruded. Yes, i_as Gomez, but no longer the Gomez of the demure smile and the mask-lik_xpression. Here was a face with flashing eyes and distorted features, a fac_onvulsed with hatred and with the mad joy of gratified revenge.
  • "Lord Roxton!" he shouted. "Lord John Roxton!"
  • "Well," said our companion, "here I am."
  • A shriek of laughter came across the abyss.
  • "Yes, there you are, you English dog, and there you will remain! I have waite_nd waited, and now has come my chance. You found it hard to get up; you wil_ind it harder to get down. You cursed fools, you are trapped, every one o_ou!"
  • We were too astounded to speak. We could only stand there staring i_mazement. A great broken bough upon the grass showed whence he had gained hi_everage to tilt over our bridge. The face had vanished, but presently it wa_p again, more frantic than before.
  • "We nearly killed you with a stone at the cave," he cried; "but this i_etter. It is slower and more terrible. Your bones will whiten up there, an_one will know where you lie or come to cover them. As you lie dying, think o_opez, whom you shot five years ago on the Putomayo River. I am his brother, and, come what will I will die happy now, for his memory has been avenged." _urious hand was shaken at us, and then all was quiet.
  • Had the half-breed simply wrought his vengeance and then escaped, all migh_ave been well with him. It was that foolish, irresistible Latin impulse to b_ramatic which brought his own downfall. Roxton, the man who had earne_imself the name of the Flail of the Lord through three countries, was not on_ho could be safely taunted. The half-breed was descending on the farther sid_f the pinnacle; but before he could reach the ground Lord John had run alon_he edge of the plateau and gained a point from which he could see his man.
  • There was a single crack of his rifle, and, though we saw nothing, we hear_he scream and then the distant thud of the falling body. Roxton came back t_s with a face of granite.
  • "I have been a blind simpleton," said he, bitterly, "It's my folly that ha_rought you all into this trouble. I should have remembered that these peopl_ave long memories for blood-feuds, and have been more upon my guard."
  • "What about the other one? It took two of them to lever that tree over th_dge."
  • "I could have shot him, but I let him go. He may have had no part in it.
  • Perhaps it would have been better if I had killed him, for he must, as yo_ay, have lent a hand."
  • Now that we had the clue to his action, each of us could cast back an_emember some sinister act upon the part of the half-breed—his constant desir_o know our plans, his arrest outside our tent when he was over-hearing them, the furtive looks of hatred which from time to time one or other of us ha_urprised. We were still discussing it, endeavoring to adjust our minds t_hese new conditions, when a singular scene in the plain below arrested ou_ttention.
  • A man in white clothes, who could only be the surviving half- breed, wa_unning as one does run when Death is the pacemaker. Behind him, only a fe_ards in his rear, bounded the huge ebony figure of Zambo, our devoted negro.
  • Even as we looked, he sprang upon the back of the fugitive and flung his arm_ound his neck. They rolled on the ground together. An instant afterward_ambo rose, looked at the prostrate man, and then, waving his hand joyously t_s, came running in our direction. The white figure lay motionless in th_iddle of the great plain.
  • Our two traitors had been destroyed, but the mischief that they had done live_fter them. By no possible means could we get back to the pinnacle. We ha_een natives of the world; now we were natives of the plateau. The two thing_ere separate and apart. There was the plain which led to the canoes. Yonder, beyond the violet, hazy horizon, was the stream which led back t_ivilization. But the link between was missing. No human ingenuity coul_uggest a means of bridging the chasm which yawned between ourselves and ou_ast lives. One instant had altered the whole conditions of our existence.
  • It was at such a moment that I learned the stuff of which my three comrade_ere composed. They were grave, it is true, and thoughtful, but of a_nvincible serenity. For the moment we could only sit among the bushes i_atience and wait the coming of Zambo. Presently his honest black face toppe_he rocks and his Herculean figure emerged upon the top of the pinnacle.
  • "What I do now?" he cried. "You tell me and I do it."
  • It was a question which it was easier to ask than to answer. One thing onl_as clear. He was our one trusty link with the outside world. On no accoun_ust he leave us.
  • "No no!" he cried. "I not leave you. Whatever come, you always find me here.
  • But no able to keep Indians. Already they say too much Curupuri live on thi_lace, and they go home. Now you leave them me no able to keep them."
  • It was a fact that our Indians had shown in many ways of late that they wer_eary of their journey and anxious to return. We realized that Zambo spoke th_ruth, and that it would be impossible for him to keep them.
  • "Make them wait till to-morrow, Zambo," I shouted; "then I can send lette_ack by them."
  • "Very good, sarr! I promise they wait till to-morrow, said the negro. "Bu_hat I do for you now?"
  • There was plenty for him to do, and admirably the faithful fellow did it.
  • First of all, under our directions, he undid the rope from the tree-stump an_hrew one end of it across to us. It was not thicker than a clothes-line, bu_t was of great strength, and though we could not make a bridge of it, w_ight well find it invaluable if we had any climbing to do. He then fastene_is end of the rope to the package of supplies which had been carried up, an_e were able to drag it across. This gave us the means of life for at least _eek, even if we found nothing else. Finally he descended and carried up tw_ther packets of mixed goods—a box of ammunition and a number of other things, all of which we got across by throwing our rope to him and hauling it back. I_as evening when he at last climbed down, with a final assurance that he woul_eep the Indians till next morning.
  • And so it is that I have spent nearly the whole of this our first night upo_he plateau writing up our experiences by the light of a single candle- lantern.
  • We supped and camped at the very edge of the cliff, quenching our thirst wit_wo bottles of Apollinaris which were in one of the cases. It is vital to u_o find water, but I think even Lord John himself had had adventures enoug_or one day, and none of us felt inclined to make the first push into th_nknown. We forbore to light a fire or to make any unnecessary sound.
  • To-morrow (or to-day, rather, for it is already dawn as I write) we shall mak_ur first venture into this strange land. When I shall be able to writ_gain—or if I ever shall write again—I know not. Meanwhile, I can see that th_ndians are still in their place, and I am sure that the faithful Zambo wil_e here presently to get my letter. I only trust that it will come to hand.
  • P.S.—The more I think the more desperate does our position seem. I see n_ossible hope of our return. If there were a high tree near the edge of th_lateau we might drop a return bridge across, but there is none within fift_ards. Our united strength could not carry a trunk which would serve ou_urpose. The rope, of course, is far too short that we could descend by it.
  • No, our position is hopeless—hopeless!