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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lost World - Chapter XIII - "A Sight which I shall Never Forget"
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The Lost World - Chapter XIII - 'A Sight which I shall Never Forget' Post by :Worldbridger Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Conan Doyle Date :December 2010 Read :2683

Click below to download : The Lost World - Chapter XIII - "A Sight which I shall Never Forget" (Format : PDF)

The Lost World - Chapter XIII - "A Sight which I shall Never Forget"

Just as the sun was setting upon that melancholy night I saw the
lonely figure of the Indian upon the vast plain beneath me, and I
watched him, our one faint hope of salvation, until he disappeared
in the rising mists of evening which lay, rose-tinted from the
setting sun, between the far-off river and me.

It was quite dark when I at last turned back to our stricken
camp, and my last vision as I went was the red gleam of Zambo's
fire, the one point of light in the wide world below, as was
his faithful presence in my own shadowed soul. And yet I felt
happier than I had done since this crushing blow had fallen upon
me, for it was good to think that the world should know what we
had done, so that at the worst our names should not perish with
our bodies, but should go down to posterity associated with the
result of our labors.

It was an awesome thing to sleep in that ill-fated camp; and yet
it was even more unnerving to do so in the jungle. One or the
other it must be. Prudence, on the one hand, warned me that I
should remain on guard, but exhausted Nature, on the other,
declared that I should do nothing of the kind. I climbed up on
to a limb of the great gingko tree, but there was no secure perch
on its rounded surface, and I should certainly have fallen off
and broken my neck the moment I began to doze. I got down,
therefore, and pondered over what I should do. Finally, I closed
the door of the zareba, lit three separate fires in a triangle,
and having eaten a hearty supper dropped off into a profound sleep,
from which I had a strange and most welcome awakening. In the
early morning, just as day was breaking, a hand was laid upon
my arm, and starting up, with all my nerves in a tingle and my
hand feeling for a rifle, I gave a cry of joy as in the cold gray
light I saw Lord John Roxton kneeling beside me.

It was he--and yet it was not he. I had left him calm in his
bearing, correct in his person, prim in his dress. Now he was
pale and wild-eyed, gasping as he breathed like one who has run
far and fast. His gaunt face was scratched and bloody, his
clothes were hanging in rags, and his hat was gone. I stared in
amazement, but he gave me no chance for questions. He was
grabbing at our stores all the time he spoke.

"Quick, young fellah! Quick!" he cried. "Every moment counts.
Get the rifles, both of them. I have the other two. Now, all the
cartridges you can gather. Fill up your pockets. Now, some food.
Half a dozen tins will do. That's all right! Don't wait to talk
or think. Get a move on, or we are done!"

Still half-awake, and unable to imagine what it all might mean, I
found myself hurrying madly after him through the wood, a rifle
under each arm and a pile of various stores in my hands. He dodged
in and out through the thickest of the scrub until he came to a
dense clump of brush-wood. Into this he rushed, regardless of
thorns, and threw himself into the heart of it, pulling me down
by his side.

"There!" he panted. "I think we are safe here. They'll make for
the camp as sure as fate. It will be their first idea. But this
should puzzle 'em."

"What is it all?" I asked, when I had got my breath. "Where are
the professors? And who is it that is after us?"

"The ape-men," he cried. "My God, what brutes! Don't raise your
voice, for they have long ears--sharp eyes, too, but no power of
scent, so far as I could judge, so I don't think they can sniff
us out. Where have you been, young fellah? You were well out of it."

In a few sentences I whispered what I had done.

"Pretty bad," said he, when he had heard of the dinosaur and the pit.
"It isn't quite the place for a rest cure. What? But I had no idea
what its possibilities were until those devils got hold of us.
The man-eatin' Papuans had me once, but they are Chesterfields
compared to this crowd."

"How did it happen?" I asked.

"It was in the early mornin'. Our learned friends were just stirrin'.
Hadn't even begun to argue yet. Suddenly it rained apes. They came
down as thick as apples out of a tree. They had been assemblin'
in the dark, I suppose, until that great tree over our heads was
heavy with them. I shot one of them through the belly, but before
we knew where we were they had us spread-eagled on our backs. I call
them apes, but they carried sticks and stones in their hands and
jabbered talk to each other, and ended up by tyin' our hands with
creepers, so they are ahead of any beast that I have seen in
my wanderin's. Ape-men--that's what they are--Missin' Links, and
I wish they had stayed missin'. They carried off their wounded
comrade--he was bleedin' like a pig--and then they sat around us,
and if ever I saw frozen murder it was in their faces. They were
big fellows, as big as a man and a deal stronger. Curious glassy
gray eyes they have, under red tufts, and they just sat and gloated
and gloated. Challenger is no chicken, but even he was cowed.
He managed to struggle to his feet, and yelled out at them to have
done with it and get it over. I think he had gone a bit off his
head at the suddenness of it, for he raged and cursed at them
like a lunatic. If they had been a row of his favorite Pressmen
he could not have slanged them worse."

"Well, what did they do?" I was enthralled by the strange story
which my companion was whispering into my ear, while all the time
his keen eyes were shooting in every direction and his hand
grasping his cocked rifle.

"I thought it was the end of us, but instead of that it started
them on a new line. They all jabbered and chattered together.
Then one of them stood out beside Challenger. You'll smile,
young fellah, but 'pon my word they might have been kinsmen.
I couldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.
This old ape-man--he was their chief--was a sort of red Challenger,
with every one of our friend's beauty points, only just a trifle
more so. He had the short body, the big shoulders, the round chest,
no neck, a great ruddy frill of a beard, the tufted eyebrows,
the `What do you want, damn you!' look about the eyes, and the
whole catalogue. When the ape-man stood by Challenger and put his
paw on his shoulder, the thing was complete. Summerlee was a bit
hysterical, and he laughed till he cried. The ape-men laughed too--
or at least they put up the devil of a cacklin'--and they set to
work to drag us off through the forest. They wouldn't touch the
guns and things--thought them dangerous, I expect--but they carried
away all our loose food. Summerlee and I got some rough handlin'
on the way--there's my skin and my clothes to prove it--for they
took us a bee-line through the brambles, and their own hides are
like leather. But Challenger was all right. Four of them carried
him shoulder high, and he went like a Roman emperor. What's that?"

It was a strange clicking noise in the distance not unlike castanets.

"There they go!" said my companion, slipping cartridges into the
second double barrelled "Express." "Load them all up, young
fellah my lad, for we're not going to be taken alive, and don't
you think it! That's the row they make when they are excited.
By George! they'll have something to excite them if they put us up.
The `Last Stand of the Grays' won't be in it. `With their
rifles grasped in their stiffened hands, mid a ring of the dead
and dyin',' as some fathead sings. Can you hear them now?"

"Very far away."

"That little lot will do no good, but I expect their search
parties are all over the wood. Well, I was telling you my tale
of woe. They got us soon to this town of theirs--about a
thousand huts of branches and leaves in a great grove of trees
near the edge of the cliff. It's three or four miles from here.
The filthy beasts fingered me all over, and I feel as if I should
never be clean again. They tied us up--the fellow who handled me
could tie like a bosun--and there we lay with our toes up,
beneath a tree, while a great brute stood guard over us with a
club in his hand. When I say `we' I mean Summerlee and myself.
Old Challenger was up a tree, eatin' pines and havin' the time of
his life. I'm bound to say that he managed to get some fruit to
us, and with his own hands he loosened our bonds. If you'd seen
him sitting up in that tree hob-nobbin' with his twin
brother--and singin' in that rollin' bass of his, `Ring out, wild
bells,' cause music of any kind seemed to put 'em in a good
humor, you'd have smiled; but we weren't in much mood for
laughin', as you can guess. They were inclined, within limits,
to let him do what he liked, but they drew the line pretty
sharply at us. It was a mighty consolation to us all to know
that you were runnin' loose and had the archives in your keepin'.

"Well, now, young fellah, I'll tell you what will surprise you.
You say you saw signs of men, and fires, traps, and the like.
Well, we have seen the natives themselves. Poor devils they
were, down-faced little chaps, and had enough to make them so.
It seems that the humans hold one side of this plateau--over
yonder, where you saw the caves--and the ape-men hold this side,
and there is bloody war between them all the time. That's the
situation, so far as I could follow it. Well, yesterday the
ape-men got hold of a dozen of the humans and brought them in
as prisoners. You never heard such a jabberin' and shriekin' in
your life. The men were little red fellows, and had been bitten
and clawed so that they could hardly walk. The ape-men put two
of them to death there and then--fairly pulled the arm off one of
them--it was perfectly beastly. Plucky little chaps they are,
and hardly gave a squeak. But it turned us absolutely sick.
Summerlee fainted, and even Challenger had as much as he could stand.
I think they have cleared, don't you?"

We listened intently, but nothing save the calling of the birds broke
the deep peace of the forest. Lord Roxton went on with his story.

"I Think you have had the escape of your life, young fellah my lad.
It was catchin' those Indians that put you clean out of their heads,
else they would have been back to the camp for you as sure as fate
and gathered you in. Of course, as you said, they have been watchin'
us from the beginnin' out of that tree, and they knew perfectly well
that we were one short. However, they could think only of this new
haul; so it was I, and not a bunch of apes, that dropped in on you
in the morning. Well, we had a horrid business afterwards. My God!
what a nightmare the whole thing is! You remember the great bristle
of sharp canes down below where we found the skeleton of the American?
Well, that is just under ape-town, and that's the jumpin'-off place
of their prisoners. I expect there's heaps of skeletons there, if
we looked for 'em. They have a sort of clear parade-ground on
the top, and they make a proper ceremony about it. One by one the
poor devils have to jump, and the game is to see whether they are
merely dashed to pieces or whether they get skewered on the canes.
They took us out to see it, and the whole tribe lined up on the edge.
Four of the Indians jumped, and the canes went through 'em like
knittin' needles through a pat of butter. No wonder we found that
poor Yankee's skeleton with the canes growin' between his ribs.
It was horrible--but it was doocedly interestin' too. We were all
fascinated to see them take the dive, even when we thought it would
be our turn next on the spring-board.

"Well, it wasn't. They kept six of the Indians up for to-day--
that's how I understood it--but I fancy we were to be the
star performers in the show. Challenger might get off, but
Summerlee and I were in the bill. Their language is more than
half signs, and it was not hard to follow them. So I thought it
was time we made a break for it. I had been plottin' it out a
bit, and had one or two things clear in my mind. It was all on
me, for Summerlee was useless and Challenger not much better.
The only time they got together they got slangin' because they
couldn't agree upon the scientific classification of these
red-headed devils that had got hold of us. One said it was the
dryopithecus of Java, the other said it was pithecanthropus.
Madness, I call it--Loonies, both. But, as I say, I had thought
out one or two points that were helpful. One was that these
brutes could not run as fast as a man in the open. They have
short, bandy legs, you see, and heavy bodies. Even Challenger
could give a few yards in a hundred to the best of them, and you
or I would be a perfect Shrubb. Another point was that they knew
nothin' about guns. I don't believe they ever understood how the
fellow I shot came by his hurt. If we could get at our guns
there was no sayin' what we could do.

"So I broke away early this mornin', gave my guard a kick in the
tummy that laid him out, and sprinted for the camp. There I got
you and the guns, and here we are."

"But the professors!" I cried, in consternation.

"Well, we must just go back and fetch 'em. I couldn't bring 'em
with me. Challenger was up the tree, and Summerlee was not fit
for the effort. The only chance was to get the guns and try
a rescue. Of course they may scupper them at once in revenge.
I don't think they would touch Challenger, but I wouldn't answer
for Summerlee. But they would have had him in any case. Of that
I am certain. So I haven't made matters any worse by boltin'.
But we are honor bound to go back and have them out or see it
through with them. So you can make up your soul, young fellah my
lad, for it will be one way or the other before evenin'."

I have tried to imitate here Lord Roxton's jerky talk, his short,
strong sentences, the half-humorous, half-reckless tone that ran
through it all. But he was a born leader. As danger thickened
his jaunty manner would increase, his speech become more racy,
his cold eyes glitter into ardent life, and his Don Quixote
moustache bristle with joyous excitement. His love of danger,
his intense appreciation of the drama of an adventure--all the
more intense for being held tightly in--his consistent view that
every peril in life is a form of sport, a fierce game betwixt you
and Fate, with Death as a forfeit, made him a wonderful companion
at such hours. If it were not for our fears as to the fate of
our companions, it would have been a positive joy to throw myself
with such a man into such an affair. We were rising from our
brushwood hiding-place when suddenly I felt his grip upon my arm.

"By George!" he whispered, "here they come!"

From where we lay we could look down a brown aisle, arched with
green, formed by the trunks and branches. Along this a party of
the ape-men were passing. They went in single file, with bent legs
and rounded backs, their hands occasionally touching the ground,
their heads turning to left and right as they trotted along.
Their crouching gait took away from their height, but I should
put them at five feet or so, with long arms and enormous chests.
Many of them carried sticks, and at the distance they looked like
a line of very hairy and deformed human beings. For a moment I
caught this clear glimpse of them. Then they were lost among
the bushes.

"Not this time," said Lord John, who had caught up his rifle.
"Our best chance is to lie quiet until they have given up the search.
Then we shall see whether we can't get back to their town and hit
'em where it hurts most. Give 'em an hour and we'll march."

We filled in the time by opening one of our food tins and making
sure of our breakfast. Lord Roxton had had nothing but some
fruit since the morning before and ate like a starving man.
Then, at last, our pockets bulging with cartridges and a rifle in
each hand, we started off upon our mission of rescue. Before leaving
it we carefully marked our little hiding-place among the brush-wood
and its bearing to Fort Challenger, that we might find it again if
we needed it. We slunk through the bushes in silence until we came
to the very edge of the cliff, close to the old camp. There we
halted, and Lord John gave me some idea of his plans.

"So long as we are among the thick trees these swine are our
masters, said he. They can see us and we cannot see them. But in
the open it is different. There we can move faster than they.
So we must stick to the open all we can. The edge of the plateau
has fewer large trees than further inland. So that's our line
of advance. Go slowly, keep your eyes open and your rifle ready.
Above all, never let them get you prisoner while there is a
cartridge left--that's my last word to you, young fellah."

When we reached the edge of the cliff I looked over and saw our
good old black Zambo sitting smoking on a rock below us. I would
have given a great deal to have hailed him and told him how we
were placed, but it was too dangerous, lest we should be heard.
The woods seemed to be full of the ape-men; again and again we
heard their curious clicking chatter. At such times we plunged
into the nearest clump of bushes and lay still until the sound
had passed away. Our advance, therefore, was very slow, and two
hours at least must have passed before I saw by Lord John's
cautious movements that we must be close to our destination.
He motioned to me to lie still, and he crawled forward himself.
In a minute he was back again, his face quivering with eagerness.

"Come!" said he. "Come quick! I hope to the Lord we are not too
late already!

I found myself shaking with nervous excitement as I scrambled
forward and lay down beside him, looking out through the bushes
at a clearing which stretched before us.

It was a sight which I shall never forget until my dying day--so
weird, so impossible, that I do not know how I am to make you
realize it, or how in a few years I shall bring myself to believe
in it if I live to sit once more on a lounge in the Savage Club
and look out on the drab solidity of the Embankment. I know that
it will seem then to be some wild nightmare, some delirium of fever.
Yet I will set it down now, while it is still fresh in my memory,
and one at least, the man who lay in the damp grasses by my side,
will know if I have lied.

A wide, open space lay before us--some hundreds of yards
across--all green turf and low bracken growing to the very edge
of the cliff. Round this clearing there was a semi-circle of
trees with curious huts built of foliage piled one above the
other among the branches. A rookery, with every nest a little
house, would best convey the idea. The openings of these huts
and the branches of the trees were thronged with a dense mob of
ape-people, whom from their size I took to be the females and
infants of the tribe. They formed the background of the picture,
and were all looking out with eager interest at the same scene
which fascinated and bewildered us.

In the open, and near the edge of the cliff, there had assembled
a crowd of some hundred of these shaggy, red-haired creatures,
many of them of immense size, and all of them horrible to look upon.
There was a certain discipline among them, for none of them
attempted to break the line which had been formed. In front
there stood a small group of Indians--little, clean-limbed, red
fellows, whose skins glowed like polished bronze in the strong sunlight.
A tall, thin white man was standing beside them, his head bowed,
his arms folded, his whole attitude expressive of his horror
and dejection. There was no mistaking the angular form of
Professor Summerlee.

In front of and around this dejected group of prisoners were several
ape-men, who watched them closely and made all escape impossible.
Then, right out from all the others and close to the edge of the
cliff, were two figures, so strange, and under other circumstances
so ludicrous, that they absorbed my attention. The one was our
comrade, Professor Challenger. The remains of his coat still hung
in strips from his shoulders, but his shirt had been all torn out,
and his great beard merged itself in the black tangle which
covered his mighty chest. He had lost his hat, and his hair,
which had grown long in our wanderings, was flying in wild disorder.
A single day seemed to have changed him from the highest product
of modern civilization to the most desperate savage in South America.
Beside him stood his master, the king of the ape-men. In all things
he was, as Lord John had said, the very image of our Professor,
save that his coloring was red instead of black. The same short,
broad figure, the same heavy shoulders, the same forward hang of
the arms, the same bristling beard merging itself in the hairy chest.
Only above the eyebrows, where the sloping forehead and low, curved
skull of the ape-man were in sharp contrast to the broad brow and
magnificent cranium of the European, could one see any marked difference.
At every other point the king was an absurd parody of the Professor.

All this, which takes me so long to describe, impressed itself
upon me in a few seconds. Then we had very different things to
think of, for an active drama was in progress. Two of the
ape-men had seized one of the Indians out of the group and
dragged him forward to the edge of the cliff. The king raised
his hand as a signal. They caught the man by his leg and arm, and
swung him three times backwards and forwards with tremendous violence.
Then, with a frightful heave they shot the poor wretch over
the precipice. With such force did they throw him that he curved
high in the air before beginning to drop. As he vanished from sight,
the whole assembly, except the guards, rushed forward to the edge
of the precipice, and there was a long pause of absolute silence,
broken by a mad yell of delight. They sprang about, tossing their
long, hairy arms in the air and howling with exultation. Then they
fell back from the edge, formed themselves again into line, and
waited for the next victim.

This time it was Summerlee. Two of his guards caught him by the
wrists and pulled him brutally to the front. His thin figure and
long limbs struggled and fluttered like a chicken being dragged
from a coop. Challenger had turned to the king and waved his
hands frantically before him. He was begging, pleading,
imploring for his comrade's life. The ape-man pushed him roughly
aside and shook his head. It was the last conscious movement he
was to make upon earth. Lord John's rifle cracked, and the king
sank down, a tangled red sprawling thing, upon the ground.

"Shoot into the thick of them! Shoot! sonny, shoot!" cried
my companion.

There are strange red depths in the soul of the most commonplace man.
I am tenderhearted by nature, and have found my eyes moist many a
time over the scream of a wounded hare. Yet the blood lust was on
me now. I found myself on my feet emptying one magazine, then the
other, clicking open the breech to re-load, snapping it to again,
while cheering and yelling with pure ferocity and joy of slaughter
as I did so. With our four guns the two of us made a horrible havoc.
Both the guards who held Summerlee were down, and he was staggering
about like a drunken man in his amazement, unable to realize that
he was a free man. The dense mob of ape-men ran about in
bewilderment, marveling whence this storm of death was coming or
what it might mean. They waved, gesticulated, screamed, and tripped
up over those who had fallen. Then, with a sudden impulse, they all
rushed in a howling crowd to the trees for shelter, leaving the
ground behind them spotted with their stricken comrades. The prisoners
were left for the moment standing alone in the middle of the clearing.

Challenger's quick brain had grasped the situation. He seized
the bewildered Summerlee by the arm, and they both ran towards us.
Two of their guards bounded after them and fell to two bullets
from Lord John. We ran forward into the open to meet our friends,
and pressed a loaded rifle into the hands of each. But Summerlee
was at the end of his strength. He could hardly totter.
Already the ape-men were recovering from their panic. They were
coming through the brushwood and threatening to cut us off.
Challenger and I ran Summerlee along, one at each of his
elbows, while Lord John covered our retreat, firing again and
again as savage heads snarled at us out of the bushes. For a
mile or more the chattering brutes were at our very heels.
Then the pursuit slackened, for they learned our power and would
no longer face that unerring rifle. When we had at last reached
the camp, we looked back and found ourselves alone.

So it seemed to us; and yet we were mistaken. We had hardly
closed the thornbush door of our zareba, clasped each other's
hands, and thrown ourselves panting upon the ground beside our
spring, when we heard a patter of feet and then a gentle,
plaintive crying from outside our entrance. Lord Roxton rushed
forward, rifle in hand, and threw it open. There, prostrate upon
their faces, lay the little red figures of the four surviving
Indians, trembling with fear of us and yet imploring our protection.
With an expressive sweep of his hands one of them pointed to the
woods around them, and indicated that they were full of danger.
Then, darting forward, he threw his arms round Lord John's legs,
and rested his face upon them.

"By George!" cried our peer, pulling at his moustache in great
perplexity, "I say--what the deuce are we to do with these people?
Get up, little chappie, and take your face off my boots."

Summerlee was sitting up and stuffing some tobacco into his old briar.

"We've got to see them safe," said he. "You've pulled us all out
of the jaws of death. My word! it was a good bit of work!"

"Admirable!" cried Challenger. "Admirable! Not only we as
individuals, but European science collectively, owe you a deep
debt of gratitude for what you have done. I do not hesitate to
say that the disappearance of Professor Summerlee and myself
would have left an appreciable gap in modern zoological history.
Our young friend here and you have done most excellently well."

He beamed at us with the old paternal smile, but European science
would have been somewhat amazed could they have seen their chosen
child, the hope of the future, with his tangled, unkempt head,
his bare chest, and his tattered clothes. He had one of the
meat-tins between his knees, and sat with a large piece of cold
Australian mutton between his fingers. The Indian looked up at
him, and then, with a little yelp, cringed to the ground and
clung to Lord John's leg.

"Don't you be scared, my bonnie boy," said Lord John, patting the
matted head in front of him. "He can't stick your appearance,
Challenger; and, by George! I don't wonder. All right, little
chap, he's only a human, just the same as the rest of us."

"Really, sir!" cried the Professor.

"Well, it's lucky for you, Challenger, that you ARE a little out
of the ordinary. If you hadn't been so like the king----"

"Upon my word, Lord John, you allow yourself great latitude."

"Well, it's a fact."

"I beg, sir, that you will change the subject. Your remarks are
irrelevant and unintelligible. The question before us is what are
we to do with these Indians? The obvious thing is to escort them
home, if we knew where their home was."

"There is no difficulty about that," said I. "They live in
the caves on the other side of the central lake."

"Our young friend here knows where they live. I gather that it
is some distance."

"A good twenty miles," said I.

Summerlee gave a groan.

"I, for one, could never get there. Surely I hear those brutes
still howling upon our track."

As he spoke, from the dark recesses of the woods we heard far
away the jabbering cry of the ape-men. The Indians once more set
up a feeble wail of fear.

"We must move, and move quick!" said Lord John. "You help
Summerlee, young fellah. These Indians will carry stores.
Now, then, come along before they can see us."

In less than half-an-hour we had reached our brushwood retreat
and concealed ourselves. All day we heard the excited calling of
the ape-men in the direction of our old camp, but none of them
came our way, and the tired fugitives, red and white, had a long,
deep sleep. I was dozing myself in the evening when someone
plucked my sleeve, and I found Challenger kneeling beside me.

"You keep a diary of these events, and you expect eventually to
publish it, Mr. Malone," said he, with solemnity.

"I am only here as a Press reporter," I answered.

"Exactly. You may have heard some rather fatuous remarks of
Lord John Roxton's which seemed to imply that there was some--
some resemblance----"

"Yes, I heard them."

"I need not say that any publicity given to such an idea--any
levity in your narrative of what occurred--would be exceedingly
offensive to me."

"I will keep well within the truth."

"Lord John's observations are frequently exceedingly fanciful,
and he is capable of attributing the most absurd reasons to the
respect which is always shown by the most undeveloped races to
dignity and character. You follow my meaning?"

"Entirely."

"I leave the matter to your discretion." Then, after a long
pause, he added: "The king of the ape-men was really a
creature of great distinction--a most remarkably handsome and
intelligent personality. Did it not strike you?"

"A most remarkable creature," said I.

And the Professor, much eased in his mind, settled down to his
slumber once more.

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