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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lost World - Chapter VIII - "The Outlying Pickets of the New World"
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The Lost World - Chapter VIII - 'The Outlying Pickets of the New World' Post by :lombadas2 Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Conan Doyle Date :December 2010 Read :2785

Click below to download : The Lost World - Chapter VIII - "The Outlying Pickets of the New World" (Format : PDF)

The Lost World - Chapter VIII - "The Outlying Pickets of the New World"

Our friends at home may well rejoice with us, for we are at our
goal, and up to a point, at least, we have shown that the
statement of Professor Challenger can be verified. We have not,
it is true, ascended the plateau, but it lies before us, and even
Professor Summerlee is in a more chastened mood. Not that he
will for an instant admit that his rival could be right, but he
is less persistent in his incessant objections, and has sunk for
the most part into an observant silence. I must hark back,
however, and continue my narrative from where I dropped it.
We are sending home one of our local Indians who is injured,
and I am committing this letter to his charge, with considerable
doubts in my mind as to whether it will ever come to hand.

When I wrote last we were about to leave the Indian village where
we had been deposited by the Esmeralda. I have to begin my
report by bad news, for the first serious personal trouble
(I pass over the incessant bickerings between the Professors)
occurred this evening, and might have had a tragic ending.
I have spoken of our English-speaking half-breed, Gomez--a fine
worker and a willing fellow, but afflicted, I fancy, with the
vice of curiosity, which is common enough among such men. On the
last evening he seems to have hid himself near the hut in which
we were discussing our plans, and, being observed by our huge
negro Zambo, who is as faithful as a dog and has the hatred which
all his race bear to the half-breeds, he was dragged out and
carried into our presence. Gomez whipped out his knife, however,
and but for the huge strength of his captor, which enabled him to
disarm him with one hand, he would certainly have stabbed him.
The matter has ended in reprimands, the opponents have been
compelled to shake hands, and there is every hope that all will
be well. As to the feuds of the two learned men, they are
continuous and bitter. It must be admitted that Challenger is
provocative in the last degree, but Summerlee has an acid tongue,
which makes matters worse. Last night Challenger said that he
never cared to walk on the Thames Embankment and look up the river,
as it was always sad to see one's own eventual goal. He is
convinced, of course, that he is destined for Westminster Abbey.
Summerlee rejoined, however, with a sour smile, by saying
that he understood that Millbank Prison had been pulled down.
Challenger's conceit is too colossal to allow him to be
really annoyed. He only smiled in his beard and repeated
"Really! Really!" in the pitying tone one would use to a child.
Indeed, they are children both--the one wizened and cantankerous,
the other formidable and overbearing, yet each with a brain which
has put him in the front rank of his scientific age. Brain, character,
soul--only as one sees more of life does one understand how distinct
is each.

The very next day we did actually make our start upon this
remarkable expedition. We found that all our possessions fitted
very easily into the two canoes, and we divided our personnel,
six in each, taking the obvious precaution in the interests of
peace of putting one Professor into each canoe. Personally, I
was with Challenger, who was in a beatific humor, moving about as
one in a silent ecstasy and beaming benevolence from every feature.
I have had some experience of him in other moods, however, and
shall be the less surprised when the thunderstorms suddenly
come up amidst the sunshine. If it is impossible to be at your
ease, it is equally impossible to be dull in his company, for one
is always in a state of half-tremulous doubt as to what sudden
turn his formidable temper may take.

For two days we made our way up a good-sized river some hundreds
of yards broad, and dark in color, but transparent, so that one
could usually see the bottom. The affluents of the Amazon are,
half of them, of this nature, while the other half are whitish
and opaque, the difference depending upon the class of country
through which they have flowed. The dark indicate vegetable
decay, while the others point to clayey soil. Twice we came
across rapids, and in each case made a portage of half a mile or
so to avoid them. The woods on either side were primeval, which
are more easily penetrated than woods of the second growth, and
we had no great difficulty in carrying our canoes through them.
How shall I ever forget the solemn mystery of it? The height of
the trees and the thickness of the boles exceeded anything which
I in my town-bred life could have imagined, shooting upwards in
magnificent columns until, at an enormous distance above our
heads, we could dimly discern the spot where they threw out their
side-branches into Gothic upward curves which coalesced to form
one great matted roof of verdure, through which only an
occasional golden ray of sunshine shot downwards to trace a thin
dazzling line of light amidst the majestic obscurity. As we
walked noiselessly amid the thick, soft carpet of decaying
vegetation the hush fell upon our souls which comes upon us in
the twilight of the Abbey, and even Professor Challenger's
full-chested notes sank into a whisper. Alone, I should have
been ignorant of the names of these giant growths, but our men of
science pointed out the cedars, the great silk cotton trees, and
the redwood trees, with all that profusion of various plants
which has made this continent the chief supplier to the human
race of those gifts of Nature which depend upon the vegetable
world, while it is the most backward in those products which come
from animal life. Vivid orchids and wonderful colored lichens
smoldered upon the swarthy tree-trunks and where a wandering
shaft of light fell full upon the golden allamanda, the scarlet
star-clusters of the tacsonia, or the rich deep blue of ipomaea,
the effect was as a dream of fairyland. In these great wastes of
forest, life, which abhors darkness, struggles ever upwards to
the light. Every plant, even the smaller ones, curls and writhes
to the green surface, twining itself round its stronger and
taller brethren in the effort. Climbing plants are monstrous and
luxuriant, but others which have never been known to climb
elsewhere learn the art as an escape from that somber shadow, so
that the common nettle, the jasmine, and even the jacitara palm
tree can be seen circling the stems of the cedars and striving to
reach their crowns. Of animal life there was no movement amid
the majestic vaulted aisles which stretched from us as we walked,
but a constant movement far above our heads told of that
multitudinous world of snake and monkey, bird and sloth, which
lived in the sunshine, and looked down in wonder at our tiny, dark,
stumbling figures in the obscure depths immeasurably below them.
At dawn and at sunset the howler monkeys screamed together and
the parrakeets broke into shrill chatter, but during the hot
hours of the day only the full drone of insects, like the beat of
a distant surf, filled the ear, while nothing moved amid the
solemn vistas of stupendous trunks, fading away into the darkness
which held us in. Once some bandy-legged, lurching creature, an
ant-eater or a bear, scuttled clumsily amid the shadows. It was the
only sign of earth life which I saw in this great Amazonian forest.

And yet there were indications that even human life itself was
not far from us in those mysterious recesses. On the third day
out we were aware of a singular deep throbbing in the air,
rhythmic and solemn, coming and going fitfully throughout
the morning. The two boats were paddling within a few yards
of each other when first we heard it, and our Indians remained
motionless, as if they had been turned to bronze, listening
intently with expressions of terror upon their faces.

"What is it, then?" I asked.

"Drums," said Lord John, carelessly; "war drums. I have heard
them before."

"Yes, sir, war drums," said Gomez, the half-breed. "Wild Indians,
bravos, not mansos; they watch us every mile of the way; kill us
if they can."

"How can they watch us?" I asked, gazing into the dark,
motionless void.

The half-breed shrugged his broad shoulders.

"The Indians know. They have their own way. They watch us.
They talk the drum talk to each other. Kill us if they can."

By the afternoon of that day--my pocket diary shows me that it
was Tuesday, August 18th--at least six or seven drums were
throbbing from various points. Sometimes they beat quickly,
sometimes slowly, sometimes in obvious question and answer, one
far to the east breaking out in a high staccato rattle, and being
followed after a pause by a deep roll from the north. There was
something indescribably nerve-shaking and menacing in that
constant mutter, which seemed to shape itself into the very
syllables of the half-breed, endlessly repeated, "We will kill
you if we can. We will kill you if we can." No one ever moved in
the silent woods. All the peace and soothing of quiet Nature lay
in that dark curtain of vegetation, but away from behind there
came ever the one message from our fellow-man. "We will kill you
if we can," said the men in the east. "We will kill you if we
can," said the men in the north.

All day the drums rumbled and whispered, while their menace
reflected itself in the faces of our colored companions. Even the
hardy, swaggering half-breed seemed cowed. I learned, however,
that day once for all that both Summerlee and Challenger
possessed that highest type of bravery, the bravery of the
scientific mind. Theirs was the spirit which upheld Darwin among
the gauchos of the Argentine or Wallace among the head-hunters
of Malaya. It is decreed by a merciful Nature that the human brain
cannot think of two things simultaneously, so that if it be
steeped in curiosity as to science it has no room for merely
personal considerations. All day amid that incessant and
mysterious menace our two Professors watched every bird upon the
wing, and every shrub upon the bank, with many a sharp wordy
contention, when the snarl of Summerlee came quick upon the deep
growl of Challenger, but with no more sense of danger and no more
reference to drum-beating Indians than if they were seated
together in the smoking-room of the Royal Society's Club in St.
James's Street. Once only did they condescend to discuss them.

"Miranha or Amajuaca cannibals," said Challenger, jerking his
thumb towards the reverberating wood.

"No doubt, sir," Summerlee answered. "Like all such tribes, I
shall expect to find them of poly-synthetic speech and of
Mongolian type."

"Polysynthetic certainly," said Challenger, indulgently. "I am
not aware that any other type of language exists in this continent,
and I have notes of more than a hundred. The Mongolian theory
I regard with deep suspicion."

"I should have thought that even a limited knowledge of
comparative anatomy would have helped to verify it," said
Summerlee, bitterly.

Challenger thrust out his aggressive chin until he was all beard
and hat-rim. "No doubt, sir, a limited knowledge would have
that effect. When one's knowledge is exhaustive, one comes to
other conclusions." They glared at each other in mutual defiance,
while all round rose the distant whisper, "We will kill you--we
will kill you if we can."

That night we moored our canoes with heavy stones for anchors in
the center of the stream, and made every preparation for a
possible attack. Nothing came, however, and with the dawn we
pushed upon our way, the drum-beating dying out behind us.
About three o'clock in the afternoon we came to a very steep rapid,
more than a mile long--the very one in which Professor Challenger
had suffered disaster upon his first journey. I confess that the
sight of it consoled me, for it was really the first direct
corroboration, slight as it was, of the truth of his story.
The Indians carried first our canoes and then our stores through
the brushwood, which is very thick at this point, while we four
whites, our rifles on our shoulders, walked between them and any
danger coming from the woods. Before evening we had successfully
passed the rapids, and made our way some ten miles above them,
where we anchored for the night. At this point I reckoned that
we had come not less than a hundred miles up the tributary from
the main stream.

It was in the early forenoon of the next day that we made the
great departure. Since dawn Professor Challenger had been
acutely uneasy, continually scanning each bank of the river.
Suddenly he gave an exclamation of satisfaction and pointed to a
single tree, which projected at a peculiar angle over the side of
the stream.

"What do you make of that?" he asked.

"It is surely an Assai palm," said Summerlee.

"Exactly. It was an Assai palm which I took for my landmark.
The secret opening is half a mile onwards upon the other side of
the river. There is no break in the trees. That is the wonder
and the mystery of it. There where you see light-green rushes
instead of dark-green undergrowth, there between the great cotton
woods, that is my private gate into the unknown. Push through,
and you will understand."

It was indeed a wonderful place. Having reached the spot marked
by a line of light-green rushes, we poled out two canoes through
them for some hundreds of yards, and eventually emerged into a
placid and shallow stream, running clear and transparent over a
sandy bottom. It may have been twenty yards across, and was
banked in on each side by most luxuriant vegetation. No one who
had not observed that for a short distance reeds had taken the
place of shrubs, could possibly have guessed the existence of
such a stream or dreamed of the fairyland beyond.

For a fairyland it was--the most wonderful that the imagination
of man could conceive. The thick vegetation met overhead,
interlacing into a natural pergola, and through this tunnel of
verdure in a golden twilight flowed the green, pellucid river,
beautiful in itself, but marvelous from the strange tints thrown
by the vivid light from above filtered and tempered in its fall.
Clear as crystal, motionless as a sheet of glass, green as the
edge of an iceberg, it stretched in front of us under its leafy
archway, every stroke of our paddles sending a thousand ripples
across its shining surface. It was a fitting avenue to a land
of wonders. All sign of the Indians had passed away, but animal
life was more frequent, and the tameness of the creatures showed
that they knew nothing of the hunter. Fuzzy little black-velvet
monkeys, with snow-white teeth and gleaming, mocking eyes,
chattered at us as we passed. With a dull, heavy splash an
occasional cayman plunged in from the bank. Once a dark, clumsy
tapir stared at us from a gap in the bushes, and then lumbered
away through the forest; once, too, the yellow, sinuous form of a
great puma whisked amid the brushwood, and its green, baleful
eyes glared hatred at us over its tawny shoulder. Bird life was
abundant, especially the wading birds, stork, heron, and ibis
gathering in little groups, blue, scarlet, and white, upon every
log which jutted from the bank, while beneath us the crystal
water was alive with fish of every shape and color.

For three days we made our way up this tunnel of hazy
green sunshine. On the longer stretches one could hardly
tell as one looked ahead where the distant green water ended
and the distant green archway began. The deep peace of this
strange waterway was unbroken by any sign of man.

"No Indian here. Too much afraid. Curupuri," said Gomez.

"Curupuri is the spirit of the woods," Lord John explained.
"It's a name for any kind of devil. The poor beggars think that
there is something fearsome in this direction, and therefore they
avoid it."

On the third day it became evident that our journey in the canoes
could not last much longer, for the stream was rapidly growing
more shallow. Twice in as many hours we stuck upon the bottom.
Finally we pulled the boats up among the brushwood and spent the
night on the bank of the river. In the morning Lord John and I
made our way for a couple of miles through the forest, keeping
parallel with the stream; but as it grew ever shallower we
returned and reported, what Professor Challenger had already
suspected, that we had reached the highest point to which the
canoes could be brought. We drew them up, therefore, and
concealed them among the bushes, blazing a tree with our axes, so
that we should find them again. Then we distributed the various
burdens among us--guns, ammunition, food, a tent, blankets, and
the rest--and, shouldering our packages, we set forth upon the
more laborious stage of our journey.

An unfortunate quarrel between our pepper-pots marked the outset
of our new stage. Challenger had from the moment of joining us
issued directions to the whole party, much to the evident
discontent of Summerlee. Now, upon his assigning some duty to
his fellow-Professor (it was only the carrying of an aneroid
barometer), the matter suddenly came to a head.

"May I ask, sir," said Summerlee, with vicious calm, "in what
capacity you take it upon yourself to issue these orders?"

Challenger glared and bristled.

"I do it, Professor Summerlee, as leader of this expedition."

"I am compelled to tell you, sir, that I do not recognize you in
that capacity."

"Indeed!" Challenger bowed with unwieldy sarcasm. "Perhaps you
would define my exact position."

"Yes, sir. You are a man whose veracity is upon trial, and this
committee is here to try it. You walk, sir, with your judges."

"Dear me!" said Challenger, seating himself on the side of one of
the canoes. "In that case you will, of course, go on your way,
and I will follow at my leisure. If I am not the leader you
cannot expect me to lead."

Thank heaven that there were two sane men--Lord John Roxton
and myself--to prevent the petulance and folly of our learned
Professors from sending us back empty-handed to London.
Such arguing and pleading and explaining before we could get
them mollified! Then at last Summerlee, with his sneer and his
pipe, would move forwards, and Challenger would come rolling and
grumbling after. By some good fortune we discovered about this
time that both our savants had the very poorest opinion of Dr.
Illingworth of Edinburgh. Thenceforward that was our one safety,
and every strained situation was relieved by our introducing the
name of the Scotch zoologist, when both our Professors would form
a temporary alliance and friendship in their detestation and
abuse of this common rival.

Advancing in single file along the bank of the stream, we soon
found that it narrowed down to a mere brook, and finally that it
lost itself in a great green morass of sponge-like mosses, into
which we sank up to our knees. The place was horribly haunted
by clouds of mosquitoes and every form of flying pest, so we were
glad to find solid ground again and to make a circuit among the
trees, which enabled us to outflank this pestilent morass, which
droned like an organ in the distance, so loud was it with insect life.

On the second day after leaving our canoes we found that the
whole character of the country changed. Our road was
persistently upwards, and as we ascended the woods became
thinner and lost their tropical luxuriance. The huge trees of
the alluvial Amazonian plain gave place to the Phoenix and coco
palms, growing in scattered clumps, with thick brushwood between.
In the damper hollows the Mauritia palms threw out their graceful
drooping fronds. We traveled entirely by compass, and once or
twice there were differences of opinion between Challenger and
the two Indians, when, to quote the Professor's indignant words,
the whole party agreed to "trust the fallacious instincts of
undeveloped savages rather than the highest product of modern
European culture." That we were justified in doing so was shown
upon the third day, when Challenger admitted that he recognized
several landmarks of his former journey, and in one spot we
actually came upon four fire-blackened stones, which must have
marked a camping-place.

The road still ascended, and we crossed a rock-studded slope
which took two days to traverse. The vegetation had again
changed, and only the vegetable ivory tree remained, with a
great profusion of wonderful orchids, among which I learned to
recognize the rare Nuttonia Vexillaria and the glorious pink and
scarlet blossoms of Cattleya and odontoglossum. Occasional brooks
with pebbly bottoms and fern-draped banks gurgled down the shallow
gorges in the hill, and offered good camping-grounds every evening
on the banks of some rock-studded pool, where swarms of little
blue-backed fish, about the size and shape of English trout,
gave us a delicious supper.

On the ninth day after leaving the canoes, having done, as I
reckon, about a hundred and twenty miles, we began to emerge from
the trees, which had grown smaller until they were mere shrubs.
Their place was taken by an immense wilderness of bamboo, which
grew so thickly that we could only penetrate it by cutting a
pathway with the machetes and billhooks of the Indians. It took
us a long day, traveling from seven in the morning till eight at
night, with only two breaks of one hour each, to get through
this obstacle. Anything more monotonous and wearying could not be
imagined, for, even at the most open places, I could not see more
than ten or twelve yards, while usually my vision was limited to
the back of Lord John's cotton jacket in front of me, and to the
yellow wall within a foot of me on either side. From above came
one thin knife-edge of sunshine, and fifteen feet over our heads
one saw the tops of the reeds swaying against the deep blue sky.
I do not know what kind of creatures inhabit such a thicket, but
several times we heard the plunging of large, heavy animals quite
close to us. From their sounds Lord John judged them to be some
form of wild cattle. Just as night fell we cleared the belt of
bamboos, and at once formed our camp, exhausted by the
interminable day.

Early next morning we were again afoot, and found that the
character of the country had changed once again. Behind us was
the wall of bamboo, as definite as if it marked the course of
a river. In front was an open plain, sloping slightly upwards
and dotted with clumps of tree-ferns, the whole curving before
us until it ended in a long, whale-backed ridge. This we reached
about midday, only to find a shallow valley beyond, rising once
again into a gentle incline which led to a low, rounded sky-line.
It was here, while we crossed the first of these hills, that an
incident occurred which may or may not have been important.

Professor Challenger, who with the two local Indians was in the van
of the party, stopped suddenly and pointed excitedly to the right.
As he did so we saw, at the distance of a mile or so, something
which appeared to be a huge gray bird flap slowly up from the
ground and skim smoothly off, flying very low and straight, until
it was lost among the tree-ferns.

"Did you see it?" cried Challenger, in exultation. "Summerlee, did
you see it?"

His colleague was staring at the spot where the creature had disappeared.

"What do you claim that it was?" he asked.

"To the best of my belief, a pterodactyl."

Summerlee burst into derisive laughter "A pter-fiddlestick!" said he.
"It was a stork, if ever I saw one."

Challenger was too furious to speak. He simply swung his pack
upon his back and continued upon his march. Lord John came abreast
of me, however, and his face was more grave than was his wont.
He had his Zeiss glasses in his hand.

"I focused it before it got over the trees," said he. "I won't
undertake to say what it was, but I'll risk my reputation as a
sportsman that it wasn't any bird that ever I clapped eyes on in
my life."

So there the matter stands. Are we really just at the edge of
the unknown, encountering the outlying pickets of this lost world
of which our leader speaks? I give you the incident as it
occurred and you will know as much as I do. It stands alone, for
we saw nothing more which could be called remarkable.

And now, my readers, if ever I have any, I have brought you up
the broad river, and through the screen of rushes, and down the
green tunnel, and up the long slope of palm trees, and through
the bamboo brake, and across the plain of tree-ferns. At last
our destination lay in full sight of us. When we had crossed
the second ridge we saw before us an irregular, palm-studded
plain, and then the line of high red cliffs which I have seen
in the picture. There it lies, even as I write, and there can
be no question that it is the same. At the nearest point it is
about seven miles from our present camp, and it curves away,
stretching as far as I can see. Challenger struts about like
a prize peacock, and Summerlee is silent, but still sceptical.
Another day should bring some of our doubts to an end.
Meanwhile, as Jose, whose arm was pierced by a broken bamboo,
insists upon returning, I send this letter back in his charge,
and only hope that it may eventually come to hand. I will write
again as the occasion serves. I have enclosed with this a rough
chart of our journey, which may have the effect of making the
account rather easier to understand.

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