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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lost World - Chapter X - "The most Wonderful Things have Happened"
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The Lost World - Chapter X - 'The most Wonderful Things have Happened' Post by :tony5147 Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Conan Doyle Date :December 2010 Read :2080

Click below to download : The Lost World - Chapter X - "The most Wonderful Things have Happened" (Format : PDF)

The Lost World - Chapter X - "The most Wonderful Things have Happened"

The most wonderful things have happened and are continually
happening to us. All the paper that I possess consists of five
old note-books and a lot of scraps, and I have only the one
stylographic pencil; but so long as I can move my hand I will
continue to set down our experiences and impressions, for, since
we are the only men of the whole human race to see such things,
it is of enormous importance that I should record them whilst
they are fresh in my memory and before that fate which seems to
be constantly impending does actually overtake us. Whether Zambo
can at last take these letters to the river, or whether I shall
myself in some miraculous way carry them back with me, or,
finally, whether some daring explorer, coming upon our tracks
with the advantage, perhaps, of a perfected monoplane, should
find this bundle of manuscript, in any case I can see that what I
am writing is destined to immortality as a classic of true adventure.

On the morning after our being trapped upon the plateau by
the villainous Gomez we began a new stage in our experiences.
The first incident in it was not such as to give me a very
favorable opinion of the place to which we had wandered. As I
roused myself from a short nap after day had dawned, my eyes fell
upon a most singular appearance upon my own leg. My trouser had
slipped up, exposing a few inches of my skin above my sock.
On this there rested a large, purplish grape. Astonished at the
sight, I leaned forward to pick it off, when, to my horror, it burst
between my finger and thumb, squirting blood in every direction.
My cry of disgust had brought the two professors to my side.

"Most interesting," said Summerlee, bending over my shin.
"An enormous blood-tick, as yet, I believe, unclassified."

"The first-fruits of our labors," said Challenger in his booming,
pedantic fashion. "We cannot do less than call it Ixodes Maloni.
The very small inconvenience of being bitten, my young friend,
cannot, I am sure, weigh with you as against the glorious
privilege of having your name inscribed in the deathless roll
of zoology. Unhappily you have crushed this fine specimen at
the moment of satiation."

"Filthy vermin!" I cried.

Professor Challenger raised his great eyebrows in protest, and
placed a soothing paw upon my shoulder.

"You should cultivate the scientific eye and the detached
scientific mind," said he. "To a man of philosophic temperament
like myself the blood-tick, with its lancet-like proboscis and
its distending stomach, is as beautiful a work of Nature as the
peacock or, for that matter, the aurora borealis. It pains me to
hear you speak of it in so unappreciative a fashion. No doubt,
with due diligence, we can secure some other specimen."

"There can be no doubt of that," said Summerlee, grimly, "for one
has just disappeared behind your shirt-collar."

Challenger sprang into the air bellowing like a bull, and tore
frantically at his coat and shirt to get them off. Summerlee and
I laughed so that we could hardly help him. At last we exposed
that monstrous torso (fifty-four inches, by the tailor's tape).
His body was all matted with black hair, out of which jungle we
picked the wandering tick before it had bitten him. But the
bushes round were full of the horrible pests, and it was clear
that we must shift our camp.

But first of all it was necessary to make our arrangements with
the faithful negro, who appeared presently on the pinnacle with a
number of tins of cocoa and biscuits, which he tossed over to us.
Of the stores which remained below he was ordered to retain as
much as would keep him for two months. The Indians were to have
the remainder as a reward for their services and as payment for
taking our letters back to the Amazon. Some hours later we saw
them in single file far out upon the plain, each with a bundle on
his head, making their way back along the path we had come.
Zambo occupied our little tent at the base of the pinnacle, and
there he remained, our one link with the world below.

And now we had to decide upon our immediate movements. We shifted
our position from among the tick-laden bushes until we came to a
small clearing thickly surrounded by trees upon all sides.
There were some flat slabs of rock in the center, with an
excellent well close by, and there we sat in cleanly comfort
while we made our first plans for the invasion of this new country.
Birds were calling among the foliage--especially one with a
peculiar whooping cry which was new to us--but beyond these
sounds there were no signs of life.

Our first care was to make some sort of list of our own stores,
so that we might know what we had to rely upon. What with the
things we had ourselves brought up and those which Zambo had sent
across on the rope, we were fairly well supplied. Most important
of all, in view of the dangers which might surround us, we had our
four rifles and one thousand three hundred rounds, also a shot-gun,
but not more than a hundred and fifty medium pellet cartridges.
In the matter of provisions we had enough to last for several
weeks, with a sufficiency of tobacco and a few scientific
implements, including a large telescope and a good field-glass.
All these things we collected together in the clearing, and as
a first precaution, we cut down with our hatchet and knives a
number of thorny bushes, which we piled round in a circle some
fifteen yards in diameter. This was to be our headquarters for
the time--our place of refuge against sudden danger and the
guard-house for our stores. Fort Challenger, we called it.

IT was midday before we had made ourselves secure, but the heat
was not oppressive, and the general character of the plateau, both
in its temperature and in its vegetation, was almost temperate.
The beech, the oak, and even the birch were to be found among
the tangle of trees which girt us in. One huge gingko tree,
topping all the others, shot its great limbs and maidenhair
foliage over the fort which we had constructed. In its shade
we continued our discussion, while Lord John, who had quickly
taken command in the hour of action, gave us his views.

"So long as neither man nor beast has seen or heard us, we are
safe," said he. "From the time they know we are here our
troubles begin. There are no signs that they have found us out
as yet. So our game surely is to lie low for a time and spy out
the land. We want to have a good look at our neighbors before we
get on visitin' terms."

"But we must advance," I ventured to remark.

"By all means, sonny my boy! We will advance. But with
common sense. We must never go so far that we can't get back
to our base. Above all, we must never, unless it is life or
death, fire off our guns."

"But YOU fired yesterday," said Summerlee.

"Well, it couldn't be helped. However, the wind was strong and
blew outwards. It is not likely that the sound could have
traveled far into the plateau. By the way, what shall we call
this place? I suppose it is up to us to give it a name?"

There were several suggestions, more or less happy, but
Challenger's was final.

"It can only have one name," said he. "It is called after the
pioneer who discovered it. It is Maple White Land."

Maple White Land it became, and so it is named in that chart
which has become my special task. So it will, I trust, appear
in the atlas of the future.

The peaceful penetration of Maple White Land was the pressing
subject before us. We had the evidence of our own eyes that the
place was inhabited by some unknown creatures, and there was that
of Maple White's sketch-book to show that more dreadful and more
dangerous monsters might still appear. That there might also
prove to be human occupants and that they were of a malevolent
character was suggested by the skeleton impaled upon the bamboos,
which could not have got there had it not been dropped from above.
Our situation, stranded without possibility of escape in such a
land, was clearly full of danger, and our reasons endorsed every
measure of caution which Lord John's experience could suggest.
Yet it was surely impossible that we should halt on the edge of
this world of mystery when our very souls were tingling with
impatience to push forward and to pluck the heart from it.

We therefore blocked the entrance to our zareba by filling it up
with several thorny bushes, and left our camp with the stores
entirely surrounded by this protecting hedge. We then slowly and
cautiously set forth into the unknown, following the course of
the little stream which flowed from our spring, as it should
always serve us as a guide on our return.

Hardly had we started when we came across signs that there were
indeed wonders awaiting us. After a few hundred yards of thick
forest, containing many trees which were quite unknown to me, but
which Summerlee, who was the botanist of the party, recognized as
forms of conifera and of cycadaceous plants which have long
passed away in the world below, we entered a region where the
stream widened out and formed a considerable bog. High reeds of
a peculiar type grew thickly before us, which were pronounced to
be equisetacea, or mare's-tails, with tree-ferns scattered
amongst them, all of them swaying in a brisk wind. Suddenly Lord
John, who was walking first, halted with uplifted hand.

"Look at this!" said he. "By George, this must be the trail of
the father of all birds!"

An enormous three-toed track was imprinted in the soft mud before us.
The creature, whatever it was, had crossed the swamp and had passed
on into the forest. We all stopped to examine that monstrous spoor.
If it were indeed a bird--and what animal could leave such a mark?--
its foot was so much larger than an ostrich's that its height upon
the same scale must be enormous. Lord John looked eagerly round him
and slipped two cartridges into his elephant-gun.

"I'll stake my good name as a shikarree," said he, "that the
track is a fresh one. The creature has not passed ten minutes.
Look how the water is still oozing into that deeper print!
By Jove! See, here is the mark of a little one!"

Sure enough, smaller tracks of the same general form were running
parallel to the large ones.

"But what do you make of this?" cried Professor Summerlee,
triumphantly, pointing to what looked like the huge print of a
five-fingered human hand appearing among the three-toed marks.

"Wealden!" cried Challenger, in an ecstasy. "I've seen them in
the Wealden clay. It is a creature walking erect upon three-toed
feet, and occasionally putting one of its five-fingered forepaws
upon the ground. Not a bird, my dear Roxton--not a bird."

"A beast?"

"No; a reptile--a dinosaur. Nothing else could have left such
a track. They puzzled a worthy Sussex doctor some ninety years
ago; but who in the world could have hoped--hoped--to have seen a
sight like that?"

His words died away into a whisper, and we all stood in
motionless amazement. Following the tracks, we had left the
morass and passed through a screen of brushwood and trees.
Beyond was an open glade, and in this were five of the most
extraordinary creatures that I have ever seen. Crouching down
among the bushes, we observed them at our leisure.

There were, as I say, five of them, two being adults and three
young ones. In size they were enormous. Even the babies were as
big as elephants, while the two large ones were far beyond all
creatures I have ever seen. They had slate-colored skin, which
was scaled like a lizard's and shimmered where the sun shone
upon it. All five were sitting up, balancing themselves upon their
broad, powerful tails and their huge three-toed hind-feet, while
with their small five-fingered front-feet they pulled down the
branches upon which they browsed. I do not know that I can bring
their appearance home to you better than by saying that they
looked like monstrous kangaroos, twenty feet in length, and with
skins like black crocodiles.

I do not know how long we stayed motionless gazing at this
marvelous spectacle. A strong wind blew towards us and we were
well concealed, so there was no chance of discovery. From time
to time the little ones played round their parents in unwieldy
gambols, the great beasts bounding into the air and falling with
dull thuds upon the earth. The strength of the parents seemed to
be limitless, for one of them, having some difficulty in reaching
a bunch of foliage which grew upon a considerable-sized tree, put
his fore-legs round the trunk and tore it down as if it had been
a sapling. The action seemed, as I thought, to show not only the
great development of its muscles, but also the small one of its
brain, for the whole weight came crashing down upon the top of
it, and it uttered a series of shrill yelps to show that, big as
it was, there was a limit to what it could endure. The incident
made it think, apparently, that the neighborhood was dangerous,
for it slowly lurched off through the wood, followed by its mate
and its three enormous infants. We saw the shimmering slaty
gleam of their skins between the tree-trunks, and their heads
undulating high above the brush-wood. Then they vanished from
our sight.

I looked at my comrades. Lord John was standing at gaze with his
finger on the trigger of his elephant-gun, his eager hunter's
soul shining from his fierce eyes. What would he not give for
one such head to place between the two crossed oars above the
mantelpiece in his snuggery at the Albany! And yet his reason
held him in, for all our exploration of the wonders of this
unknown land depended upon our presence being concealed from
its inhabitants. The two professors were in silent ecstasy.
In their excitement they had unconsciously seized each other by
the hand, and stood like two little children in the presence of a
marvel, Challenger's cheeks bunched up into a seraphic smile, and
Summerlee's sardonic face softening for the moment into wonder
and reverence.

"Nunc dimittis!" he cried at last. "What will they say in
England of this?"

"My dear Summerlee, I will tell you with great confidence exactly
what they will say in England," said Challenger. "They will say
that you are an infernal liar and a scientific charlatan, exactly
as you and others said of me."

"In the face of photographs?"

"Faked, Summerlee! Clumsily faked!"

"In the face of specimens?"

"Ah, there we may have them! Malone and his filthy Fleet Street
crew may be all yelping our praises yet. August the twenty-eighth--
the day we saw five live iguanodons in a glade of Maple White Land.
Put it down in your diary, my young friend, and send it to your rag."

"And be ready to get the toe-end of the editorial boot in
return," said Lord John. "Things look a bit different from the
latitude of London, young fellah my lad. There's many a man who
never tells his adventures, for he can't hope to be believed.
Who's to blame them? For this will seem a bit of a dream to
ourselves in a month or two. WHAT did you say they were?"

"Iguanodons," said Summerlee. "You'll find their footmarks all
over the Hastings sands, in Kent, and in Sussex. The South of
England was alive with them when there was plenty of good lush
green-stuff to keep them going. Conditions have changed, and the
beasts died. Here it seems that the conditions have not changed,
and the beasts have lived."

"If ever we get out of this alive, I must have a head with me,"
said Lord John. "Lord, how some of that Somaliland-Uganda crowd
would turn a beautiful pea-green if they saw it! I don't know
what you chaps think, but it strikes me that we are on mighty
thin ice all this time."

I had the same feeling of mystery and danger around us. In the
gloom of the trees there seemed a constant menace and as we
looked up into their shadowy foliage vague terrors crept into
one's heart. It is true that these monstrous creatures which we
had seen were lumbering, inoffensive brutes which were unlikely
to hurt anyone, but in this world of wonders what other survivals
might there not be--what fierce, active horrors ready to pounce
upon us from their lair among the rocks or brushwood? I knew
little of prehistoric life, but I had a clear remembrance of one
book which I had read in which it spoke of creatures who would
live upon our lions and tigers as a cat lives upon mice. What if
these also were to be found in the woods of Maple White Land!

It was destined that on this very morning--our first in the new
country--we were to find out what strange hazards lay around us.
It was a loathsome adventure, and one of which I hate to think.
If, as Lord John said, the glade of the iguanodons will remain
with us as a dream, then surely the swamp of the pterodactyls will
forever be our nightmare. Let me set down exactly what occurred.

We passed very slowly through the woods, partly because Lord
Roxton acted as scout before he would let us advance, and partly
because at every second step one or other of our professors would
fall, with a cry of wonder, before some flower or insect which
presented him with a new type. We may have traveled two or three
miles in all, keeping to the right of the line of the stream,
when we came upon a considerable opening in the trees. A belt
of brushwood led up to a tangle of rocks--the whole plateau was
strewn with boulders. We were walking slowly towards these
rocks, among bushes which reached over our waists, when we became
aware of a strange low gabbling and whistling sound, which filled
the air with a constant clamor and appeared to come from some
spot immediately before us. Lord John held up his hand as a
signal for us to stop, and he made his way swiftly, stooping and
running, to the line of rocks. We saw him peep over them and
give a gesture of amazement. Then he stood staring as if
forgetting us, so utterly entranced was he by what he saw.
Finally he waved us to come on, holding up his hand as a signal
for caution. His whole bearing made me feel that something
wonderful but dangerous lay before us.

Creeping to his side, we looked over the rocks. The place into
which we gazed was a pit, and may, in the early days, have been
one of the smaller volcanic blow-holes of the plateau. It was
bowl-shaped and at the bottom, some hundreds of yards from where
we lay, were pools of green-scummed, stagnant water, fringed
with bullrushes. It was a weird place in itself, but its
occupants made it seem like a scene from the Seven Circles of Dante.
The place was a rookery of pterodactyls. There were hundreds of
them congregated within view. All the bottom area round the
water-edge was alive with their young ones, and with hideous
mothers brooding upon their leathery, yellowish eggs. From this
crawling flapping mass of obscene reptilian life came the
shocking clamor which filled the air and the mephitic, horrible,
musty odor which turned us sick. But above, perched each upon
its own stone, tall, gray, and withered, more like dead and dried
specimens than actual living creatures, sat the horrible males,
absolutely motionless save for the rolling of their red eyes or
an occasional snap of their rat-trap beaks as a dragon-fly went
past them. Their huge, membranous wings were closed by folding
their fore-arms, so that they sat like gigantic old women,
wrapped in hideous web-colored shawls, and with their ferocious
heads protruding above them. Large and small, not less than a
thousand of these filthy creatures lay in the hollow before us.

Our professors would gladly have stayed there all day, so
entranced were they by this opportunity of studying the life of a
prehistoric age. They pointed out the fish and dead birds lying
about among the rocks as proving the nature of the food of these
creatures, and I heard them congratulating each other on having
cleared up the point why the bones of this flying dragon are
found in such great numbers in certain well-defined areas, as in
the Cambridge Green-sand, since it was now seen that, like penguins,
they lived in gregarious fashion.

Finally, however, Challenger, bent upon proving some point which
Summerlee had contested, thrust his head over the rock and nearly
brought destruction upon us all. In an instant the nearest male
gave a shrill, whistling cry, and flapped its twenty-foot span of
leathery wings as it soared up into the air. The females and
young ones huddled together beside the water, while the whole
circle of sentinels rose one after the other and sailed off into
the sky. It was a wonderful sight to see at least a hundred
creatures of such enormous size and hideous appearance all
swooping like swallows with swift, shearing wing-strokes above
us; but soon we realized that it was not one on which we could
afford to linger. At first the great brutes flew round in a huge
ring, as if to make sure what the exact extent of the danger
might be. Then, the flight grew lower and the circle narrower,
until they were whizzing round and round us, the dry, rustling
flap of their huge slate-colored wings filling the air with a
volume of sound that made me think of Hendon aerodrome upon a
race day.

"Make for the wood and keep together," cried Lord John, clubbing
his rifle. "The brutes mean mischief."

The moment we attempted to retreat the circle closed in upon us,
until the tips of the wings of those nearest to us nearly touched
our faces. We beat at them with the stocks of our guns, but
there was nothing solid or vulnerable to strike. Then suddenly
out of the whizzing, slate-colored circle a long neck shot out, and
a fierce beak made a thrust at us. Another and another followed.
Summerlee gave a cry and put his hand to his face, from which the
blood was streaming. I felt a prod at the back of my neck, and
turned dizzy with the shock. Challenger fell, and as I stooped
to pick him up I was again struck from behind and dropped on the
top of him. At the same instant I heard the crash of Lord John's
elephant-gun, and, looking up, saw one of the creatures with a
broken wing struggling upon the ground, spitting and gurgling at
us with a wide-opened beak and blood-shot, goggled eyes, like some
devil in a medieval picture. Its comrades had flown higher at the
sudden sound, and were circling above our heads.

"Now," cried Lord John, "now for our lives!"

We staggered through the brushwood, and even as we reached the
trees the harpies were on us again. Summerlee was knocked down,
but we tore him up and rushed among the trunks. Once there we
were safe, for those huge wings had no space for their sweep
beneath the branches. As we limped homewards, sadly mauled and
discomfited, we saw them for a long time flying at a great height
against the deep blue sky above our heads, soaring round and
round, no bigger than wood-pigeons, with their eyes no doubt
still following our progress. At last, however, as we reached
the thicker woods they gave up the chase, and we saw them no more.

A most interesting and convincing experience," said Challenger,
as we halted beside the brook and he bathed a swollen knee.
"We are exceptionally well informed, Summerlee, as to the habits
of the enraged pterodactyl."

Summerlee was wiping the blood from a cut in his forehead, while
I was tying up a nasty stab in the muscle of the neck. Lord John
had the shoulder of his coat torn away, but the creature's teeth
had only grazed the flesh.

"It is worth noting," Challenger continued, "that our young
friend has received an undoubted stab, while Lord John's coat
could only have been torn by a bite. In my own case, I was
beaten about the head by their wings, so we have had a remarkable
exhibition of their various methods of offence."

"It has been touch and go for our lives," said Lord John,
gravely, "and I could not think of a more rotten sort of death
than to be outed by such filthy vermin. I was sorry to fire my
rifle, but, by Jove! there was no great choice."

"We should not be here if you hadn't," said I, with conviction.

"It may do no harm," said he. "Among these woods there must be
many loud cracks from splitting or falling trees which would be
just like the sound of a gun. But now, if you are of my opinion,
we have had thrills enough for one day, and had best get back to
the surgical box at the camp for some carbolic. Who knows what
venom these beasts may have in their hideous jaws?"

But surely no men ever had just such a day since the world began.
Some fresh surprise was ever in store for us. When, following
the course of our brook, we at last reached our glade and saw
the thorny barricade of our camp, we thought that our adventures
were at an end. But we had something more to think of before we
could rest. The gate of Fort Challenger had been untouched, the
walls were unbroken, and yet it had been visited by some strange
and powerful creature in our absence. No foot-mark showed a trace
of its nature, and only the overhanging branch of the enormous
ginko tree suggested how it might have come and gone; but of its
malevolent strength there was ample evidence in the condition of
our stores. They were strewn at random all over the ground, and
one tin of meat had been crushed into pieces so as to extract
the contents. A case of cartridges had been shattered into
matchwood, and one of the brass shells lay shredded into pieces
beside it. Again the feeling of vague horror came upon our
souls, and we gazed round with frightened eyes at the dark
shadows which lay around us, in all of which some fearsome shape
might be lurking. How good it was when we were hailed by the
voice of Zambo, and, going to the edge of the plateau, saw him
sitting grinning at us upon the top of the opposite pinnacle.

"All well, Massa Challenger, all well!" he cried. "Me stay here.
No fear. You always find me when you want."

His honest black face, and the immense view before us, which
carried us half-way back to the affluent of the Amazon, helped us
to remember that we really were upon this earth in the twentieth
century, and had not by some magic been conveyed to some raw
planet in its earliest and wildest state. How difficult it was
to realize that the violet line upon the far horizon was well
advanced to that great river upon which huge steamers ran, and
folk talked of the small affairs of life, while we, marooned
among the creatures of a bygone age, could but gaze towards it
and yearn for all that it meant!

One other memory remains with me of this wonderful day, and with
it I will close this letter. The two professors, their tempers
aggravated no doubt by their injuries, had fallen out as to
whether our assailants were of the genus pterodactylus or
dimorphodon, and high words had ensued. To avoid their wrangling
I moved some little way apart, and was seated smoking upon the
trunk of a fallen tree, when Lord John strolled over in my direction.

"I say, Malone," said he, "do you remember that place where those
beasts were?"

"Very clearly."

"A sort of volcanic pit, was it not?"

"Exactly," said I.

"Did you notice the soil?"

"Rocks."

"But round the water--where the reeds were?"

"It was a bluish soil. It looked like clay."

"Exactly. A volcanic tube full of blue clay."

"What of that?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," said he, and strolled back to where the
voices of the contending men of science rose in a prolonged duet,
the high, strident note of Summerlee rising and falling to the
sonorous bass of Challenger. I should have thought no more of
Lord John's remark were it not that once again that night I
heard him mutter to himself: "Blue clay--clay in a volcanic tube!"
They were the last words I heard before I dropped into an
exhausted sleep.

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