Part 2 out of 5
"If I come down among you----" (General chorus of "Come, love, come!"
which interrupted the proceedings for some moments, while the
chairman, standing up and waving both his arms, seemed to be
conducting the music. The Professor, with his face flushed,
his nostrils dilated, and his beard bristling, was now in a
proper Berserk mood.) "Every great discoverer has been met with
the same incredulity--the sure brand of a generation of fools.
When great facts are laid before you, you have not the intuition,
the imagination which would help you to understand them. You can
only throw mud at the men who have risked their lives to open new
fields to science. You persecute the prophets! Galileo! Darwin,
and I----" (Prolonged cheering and complete interruption.)
All this is from my hurried notes taken at the time, which give
little notion of the absolute chaos to which the assembly had by
this time been reduced. So terrific was the uproar that several
ladies had already beaten a hurried retreat. Grave and reverend
seniors seemed to have caught the prevailing spirit as badly as
the students, and I saw white-bearded men rising and shaking
their fists at the obdurate Professor. The whole great audience
seethed and simmered like a boiling pot. The Professor took a
step forward and raised both his hands. There was something so
big and arresting and virile in the man that the clatter and
shouting died gradually away before his commanding gesture and
his masterful eyes. He seemed to have a definite message.
They hushed to hear it.
"I will not detain you," he said. "It is not worth it. Truth is
truth, and the noise of a number of foolish young men--and, I
fear I must add, of their equally foolish seniors--cannot affect
the matter. I claim that I have opened a new field of science.
You dispute it." (Cheers.) "Then I put you to the test. Will you
accredit one or more of your own number to go out as your
representatives and test my statement in your name?"
Mr. Summerlee, the veteran Professor of Comparative Anatomy, rose
among the audience, a tall, thin, bitter man, with the withered
aspect of a theologian. He wished, he said, to ask Professor
Challenger whether the results to which he had alluded in his
remarks had been obtained during a journey to the headwaters of
the Amazon made by him two years before.
Professor Challenger answered that they had.
Mr. Summerlee desired to know how it was that Professor
Challenger claimed to have made discoveries in those regions
which had been overlooked by Wallace, Bates, and other previous
explorers of established scientific repute.
Professor Challenger answered that Mr. Summerlee appeared to be
confusing the Amazon with the Thames; that it was in reality a
somewhat larger river; that Mr. Summerlee might be interested to
know that with the Orinoco, which communicated with it, some
fifty thousand miles of country were opened up, and that in so
vast a space it was not impossible for one person to find what
another had missed.
Mr. Summerlee declared, with an acid smile, that he fully
appreciated the difference between the Thames and the Amazon,
which lay in the fact that any assertion about the former could be
tested, while about the latter it could not. He would be obliged
if Professor Challenger would give the latitude and the longitude
of the country in which prehistoric animals were to be found.
Professor Challenger replied that he reserved such information
for good reasons of his own, but would be prepared to give it
with proper precautions to a committee chosen from the audience.
Would Mr. Summerlee serve on such a committee and test his story
Mr. Summerlee: "Yes, I will." (Great cheering.)
Professor Challenger: "Then I guarantee that I will place in
your hands such material as will enable you to find your way.
It is only right, however, since Mr. Summerlee goes to check my
statement that I should have one or more with him who may check his.
I will not disguise from you that there are difficulties and dangers.
Mr. Summerlee will need a younger colleague. May I ask for volunteers?"
It is thus that the great crisis of a man's life springs out at him.
Could I have imagined when I entered that hall that I was about to
pledge myself to a wilder adventure than had ever come to me in
my dreams? But Gladys--was it not the very opportunity of which
she spoke? Gladys would have told me to go. I had sprung to my feet.
I was speaking, and yet I had prepared no words. Tarp Henry, my
companion, was plucking at my skirts and I heard him whispering,
"Sit down, Malone! Don't make a public ass of yourself." At the
same time I was aware that a tall, thin man, with dark gingery hair,
a few seats in front of me, was also upon his feet. He glared back
at me with hard angry eyes, but I refused to give way.
"I will go, Mr. Chairman," I kept repeating over and over again.
"Name! Name!" cried the audience.
"My name is Edward Dunn Malone. I am the reporter of the Daily
Gazette. I claim to be an absolutely unprejudiced witness."
"What is YOUR name, sir?" the chairman asked of my tall rival.
"I am Lord John Roxton. I have already been up the Amazon,
I know all the ground, and have special qualifications for
"Lord John Roxton's reputation as a sportsman and a traveler is,
of course, world-famous," said the chairman; "at the same time it
would certainly be as well to have a member of the Press upon
such an expedition."
"Then I move," said Professor Challenger, "that both these
gentlemen be elected, as representatives of this meeting, to
accompany Professor Summerlee upon his journey to investigate and
to report upon the truth of my statements."
And so, amid shouting and cheering, our fate was decided, and I
found myself borne away in the human current which swirled
towards the door, with my mind half stunned by the vast new
project which had risen so suddenly before it. As I emerged from
the hall I was conscious for a moment of a rush of laughing
students--down the pavement, and of an arm wielding a heavy
umbrella, which rose and fell in the midst of them. Then, amid a
mixture of groans and cheers, Professor Challenger's electric
brougham slid from the curb, and I found myself walking under the
silvery lights of Regent Street, full of thoughts of Gladys and
of wonder as to my future.
Suddenly there was a touch at my elbow. I turned, and found
myself looking into the humorous, masterful eyes of the tall, thin
man who had volunteered to be my companion on this strange quest.
"Mr. Malone, I understand," said he. "We are to be
companions--what? My rooms are just over the road, in the Albany.
Perhaps you would have the kindness to spare me half an hour, for
there are one or two things that I badly want to say to you."
"I was the Flail of the Lord"
Lord John Roxton and I turned down Vigo Street together and
through the dingy portals of the famous aristocratic rookery.
At the end of a long drab passage my new acquaintance pushed open
a door and turned on an electric switch. A number of lamps shining
through tinted shades bathed the whole great room before us in a
ruddy radiance. Standing in the doorway and glancing round me, I
had a general impression of extraordinary comfort and elegance
combined with an atmosphere of masculine virility. Everywhere there
were mingled the luxury of the wealthy man of taste and the
careless untidiness of the bachelor. Rich furs and strange
iridescent mats from some Oriental bazaar were scattered upon
the floor. Pictures and prints which even my unpractised eyes
could recognize as being of great price and rarity hung thick upon
the walls. Sketches of boxers, of ballet-girls, and of racehorses
alternated with a sensuous Fragonard, a martial Girardet, and a
dreamy Turner. But amid these varied ornaments there were
scattered the trophies which brought back strongly to my
recollection the fact that Lord John Roxton was one of the great
all-round sportsmen and athletes of his day. A dark-blue oar
crossed with a cherry-pink one above his mantel-piece spoke of
the old Oxonian and Leander man, while the foils and
boxing-gloves above and below them were the tools of a man who
had won supremacy with each. Like a dado round the room was the
jutting line of splendid heavy game-heads, the best of their sort
from every quarter of the world, with the rare white rhinoceros
of the Lado Enclave drooping its supercilious lip above them all.
In the center of the rich red carpet was a black and gold Louis
Quinze table, a lovely antique, now sacrilegiously desecrated
with marks of glasses and the scars of cigar-stumps. On it stood
a silver tray of smokables and a burnished spirit-stand, from
which and an adjacent siphon my silent host proceeded to charge
two high glasses. Having indicated an arm-chair to me and placed
my refreshment near it, he handed me a long, smooth Havana.
Then, seating himself opposite to me, he looked at me long and
fixedly with his strange, twinkling, reckless eyes--eyes of a
cold light blue, the color of a glacier lake.
Through the thin haze of my cigar-smoke I noted the details of a
face which was already familiar to me from many photographs--the
strongly-curved nose, the hollow, worn cheeks, the dark, ruddy
hair, thin at the top, the crisp, virile moustaches, the small,
aggressive tuft upon his projecting chin. Something there was of
Napoleon III., something of Don Quixote, and yet again something
which was the essence of the English country gentleman, the keen,
alert, open-air lover of dogs and of horses. His skin was of a
rich flower-pot red from sun and wind. His eyebrows were tufted
and overhanging, which gave those naturally cold eyes an almost
ferocious aspect, an impression which was increased by his strong
and furrowed brow. In figure he was spare, but very strongly
built--indeed, he had often proved that there were few men in
England capable of such sustained exertions. His height was a
little over six feet, but he seemed shorter on account of a
peculiar rounding of the shoulders. Such was the famous Lord
John Roxton as he sat opposite to me, biting hard upon his cigar
and watching me steadily in a long and embarrassing silence.
"Well," said he, at last, "we've gone and done it, young fellah
my lad." (This curious phrase he pronounced as if it were all one
word--"young-fellah-me-lad.") "Yes, we've taken a jump, you an' me.
I suppose, now, when you went into that room there was no such
notion in your head--what?"
"No thought of it."
"The same here. No thought of it. And here we are, up to our
necks in the tureen. Why, I've only been back three weeks from
Uganda, and taken a place in Scotland, and signed the lease and all.
Pretty goin's on--what? How does it hit you?"
"Well, it is all in the main line of my business. I am a
journalist on the Gazette."
"Of course--you said so when you took it on. By the way, I've
got a small job for you, if you'll help me."
"Don't mind takin' a risk, do you?"
"What is the risk?"
"Well, it's Ballinger--he's the risk. You've heard of him?"
"Why, young fellah, where HAVE you lived? Sir John Ballinger
is the best gentleman jock in the north country. I could hold
him on the flat at my best, but over jumps he's my master.
Well, it's an open secret that when he's out of trainin' he drinks
hard--strikin' an average, he calls it. He got delirium on
Toosday, and has been ragin' like a devil ever since. His room
is above this. The doctors say that it is all up with the old
dear unless some food is got into him, but as he lies in bed with
a revolver on his coverlet, and swears he will put six of the
best through anyone that comes near him, there's been a bit of a
strike among the serving-men. He's a hard nail, is Jack, and a
dead shot, too, but you can't leave a Grand National winner to
die like that--what?"
"What do you mean to do, then?" I asked.
"Well, my idea was that you and I could rush him. He may be
dozin', and at the worst he can only wing one of us, and the
other should have him. If we can get his bolster-cover round his
arms and then 'phone up a stomach-pump, we'll give the old dear
the supper of his life."
It was a rather desperate business to come suddenly into one's
day's work. I don't think that I am a particularly brave man.
I have an Irish imagination which makes the unknown and the untried
more terrible than they are. On the other hand, I was brought up
with a horror of cowardice and with a terror of such a stigma.
I dare say that I could throw myself over a precipice, like the Hun
in the history books, if my courage to do it were questioned, and
yet it would surely be pride and fear, rather than courage, which
would be my inspiration. Therefore, although every nerve in my
body shrank from the whisky-maddened figure which I pictured in
the room above, I still answered, in as careless a voice as I
could command, that I was ready to go. Some further remark of
Lord Roxton's about the danger only made me irritable.
"Talking won't make it any better," said I. "Come on."
I rose from my chair and he from his. Then with a little
confidential chuckle of laughter, he patted me two or three times
on the chest, finally pushing me back into my chair.
"All right, sonny my lad--you'll do," said he. I looked up
"I saw after Jack Ballinger myself this mornin'. He blew a hole
in the skirt of my kimono, bless his shaky old hand, but we got a
jacket on him, and he's to be all right in a week. I say, young
fellah, I hope you don't mind--what? You see, between you an' me
close-tiled, I look on this South American business as a mighty
serious thing, and if I have a pal with me I want a man I can
bank on. So I sized you down, and I'm bound to say that you came
well out of it. You see, it's all up to you and me, for this old
Summerlee man will want dry-nursin' from the first. By the way,
are you by any chance the Malone who is expected to get his Rugby
cap for Ireland?"
"A reserve, perhaps."
"I thought I remembered your face. Why, I was there when you got
that try against Richmond--as fine a swervin' run as I saw the
whole season. I never miss a Rugby match if I can help it, for
it is the manliest game we have left. Well, I didn't ask you in
here just to talk sport. We've got to fix our business. Here are
the sailin's, on the first page of the Times. There's a Booth boat
for Para next Wednesday week, and if the Professor and you can work
it, I think we should take it--what? Very good, I'll fix it with him.
What about your outfit?"
"My paper will see to that."
"Can you shoot?"
"About average Territorial standard."
"Good Lord! as bad as that? It's the last thing you young fellahs
think of learnin'. You're all bees without stings, so far as
lookin' after the hive goes. You'll look silly, some o' these
days, when someone comes along an' sneaks the honey. But you'll
need to hold your gun straight in South America, for, unless our
friend the Professor is a madman or a liar, we may see some queer
things before we get back. What gun have you?"
He crossed to an oaken cupboard, and as he threw it open I caught
a glimpse of glistening rows of parallel barrels, like the pipes
of an organ.
"I'll see what I can spare you out of my own battery," said he.
One by one he took out a succession of beautiful rifles, opening
and shutting them with a snap and a clang, and then patting them
as he put them back into the rack as tenderly as a mother would
fondle her children.
"This is a Bland's .577 axite express," said he. "I got that big
fellow with it." He glanced up at the white rhinoceros. "Ten more
yards, and he'd would have added me to HIS collection.
`On that conical bullet his one chance hangs,
'Tis the weak one's advantage fair.'
Hope you know your Gordon, for he's the poet of the horse and
the gun and the man that handles both. Now, here's a useful
tool--.470, telescopic sight, double ejector, point-blank up to
three-fifty. That's the rifle I used against the Peruvian
slave-drivers three years ago. I was the flail of the Lord up in
those parts, I may tell you, though you won't find it in any
Blue-book. There are times, young fellah, when every one of us
must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel
clean again. That's why I made a little war on my own. Declared it
myself, waged it myself, ended it myself. Each of those nicks
is for a slave murderer--a good row of them--what? That big one
is for Pedro Lopez, the king of them all, that I killed in a
backwater of the Putomayo River. Now, here's something that
would do for you." He took out a beautiful brown-and-silver rifle.
"Well rubbered at the stock, sharply sighted, five cartridges to
the clip. You can trust your life to that." He handed it to me
and closed the door of his oak cabinet.
"By the way," he continued, coming back to his chair, "what do
you know of this Professor Challenger?"
"I never saw him till to-day."
"Well, neither did I. It's funny we should both sail under sealed
orders from a man we don't know. He seemed an uppish old bird.
His brothers of science don't seem too fond of him, either.
How came you to take an interest in the affair?"
I told him shortly my experiences of the morning, and he
listened intently. Then he drew out a map of South America
and laid it on the table.
"I believe every single word he said to you was the truth," said
he, earnestly, "and, mind you, I have something to go on when I
speak like that. South America is a place I love, and I think,
if you take it right through from Darien to Fuego, it's the
grandest, richest, most wonderful bit of earth upon this planet.
People don't know it yet, and don't realize what it may become.
I've been up an' down it from end to end, and had two dry
seasons in those very parts, as I told you when I spoke of the
war I made on the slave-dealers. Well, when I was up there I
heard some yarns of the same kind--traditions of Indians and the
like, but with somethin' behind them, no doubt. The more you
knew of that country, young fellah, the more you would understand
that anythin' was possible--ANYTHIN'1. There are just some narrow
water-lanes along which folk travel, and outside that it is
all darkness. Now, down here in the Matto Grande"--he swept his
cigar over a part of the map--"or up in this corner where three
countries meet, nothin' would surprise me. As that chap said
to-night, there are fifty-thousand miles of water-way runnin'
through a forest that is very near the size of Europe. You and
I could be as far away from each other as Scotland is from
Constantinople, and yet each of us be in the same great Brazilian forest.
Man has just made a track here and a scrape there in the maze.
Why, the river rises and falls the best part of forty feet,
and half the country is a morass that you can't pass over.
Why shouldn't somethin' new and wonderful lie in such a country?
And why shouldn't we be the men to find it out? Besides," he
added, his queer, gaunt face shining with delight, "there's a
sportin' risk in every mile of it. I'm like an old golf-ball--
I've had all the white paint knocked off me long ago.
Life can whack me about now, and it can't leave a mark. But a
sportin' risk, young fellah, that's the salt of existence.
Then it's worth livin' again. We're all gettin' a deal too soft
and dull and comfy. Give me the great waste lands and the wide
spaces, with a gun in my fist and somethin' to look for that's
worth findin'. I've tried war and steeplechasin' and aeroplanes,
but this huntin' of beasts that look like a lobster-supper dream
is a brand-new sensation." He chuckled with glee at the prospect.
Perhaps I have dwelt too long upon this new acquaintance, but he
is to be my comrade for many a day, and so I have tried to set
him down as I first saw him, with his quaint personality and his
queer little tricks of speech and of thought. It was only the
need of getting in the account of my meeting which drew me at
last from his company. I left him seated amid his pink radiance,
oiling the lock of his favorite rifle, while he still chuckled to
himself at the thought of the adventures which awaited us. It was
very clear to me that if dangers lay before us I could not in all
England have found a cooler head or a braver spirit with which to
That night, wearied as I was after the wonderful happenings of
the day, I sat late with McArdle, the news editor, explaining to
him the whole situation, which he thought important enough to
bring next morning before the notice of Sir George Beaumont,
the chief. It was agreed that I should write home full accounts
of my adventures in the shape of successive letters to McArdle,
and that these should either be edited for the Gazette as they
arrived, or held back to be published later, according to the
wishes of Professor Challenger, since we could not yet know what
conditions he might attach to those directions which should guide
us to the unknown land. In response to a telephone inquiry, we
received nothing more definite than a fulmination against the
Press, ending up with the remark that if we would notify our boat
he would hand us any directions which he might think it proper to
give us at the moment of starting. A second question from us
failed to elicit any answer at all, save a plaintive bleat from
his wife to the effect that her husband was in a very violent
temper already, and that she hoped we would do nothing to make
it worse. A third attempt, later in the day, provoked a terrific
crash, and a subsequent message from the Central Exchange that
Professor Challenger's receiver had been shattered. After that
we abandoned all attempt at communication.
And now my patient readers, I can address you directly no longer.
From now onwards (if, indeed, any continuation of this narrative
should ever reach you) it can only be through the paper which
I represent. In the hands of the editor I leave this account
of the events which have led up to one of the most remarkable
expeditions of all time, so that if I never return to England
there shall be some record as to how the affair came about. I am
writing these last lines in the saloon of the Booth liner
Francisca, and they will go back by the pilot to the keeping of
Mr. McArdle. Let me draw one last picture before I close the
notebook--a picture which is the last memory of the old country
which I bear away with me. It is a wet, foggy morning in the late
spring; a thin, cold rain is falling. Three shining mackintoshed
figures are walking down the quay, making for the gang-plank of
the great liner from which the blue-peter is flying. In front of
them a porter pushes a trolley piled high with trunks, wraps,
and gun-cases. Professor Summerlee, a long, melancholy figure,
walks with dragging steps and drooping head, as one who is already
profoundly sorry for himself. Lord John Roxton steps briskly,
and his thin, eager face beams forth between his hunting-cap and
his muffler. As for myself, I am glad to have got the bustling
days of preparation and the pangs of leave-taking behind me, and
I have no doubt that I show it in my bearing. Suddenly, just as
we reach the vessel, there is a shout behind us. It is Professor
Challenger, who had promised to see us off. He runs after us, a
puffing, red-faced, irascible figure.
"No thank you," says he; "I should much prefer not to go aboard.
I have only a few words to say to you, and they can very well be
said where we are. I beg you not to imagine that I am in any way
indebted to you for making this journey. I would have you to
understand that it is a matter of perfect indifference to me, and
I refuse to entertain the most remote sense of personal obligation.
Truth is truth, and nothing which you can report can affect it in
any way, though it may excite the emotions and allay the curiosity
of a number of very ineffectual people. My directions for your
instruction and guidance are in this sealed envelope. You will
open it when you reach a town upon the Amazon which is called
Manaos, but not until the date and hour which is marked upon
the outside. Have I made myself clear? I leave the strict
observance of my conditions entirely to your honor. No, Mr. Malone,
I will place no restriction upon your correspondence, since
the ventilation of the facts is the object of your journey; but
I demand that you shall give no particulars as to your exact
destination, and that nothing be actually published until your return.
Good-bye, sir. You have done something to mitigate my feelings
for the loathsome profession to which you unhappily belong.
Good-bye, Lord John. Science is, as I understand, a sealed book
to you; but you may congratulate yourself upon the hunting-field
which awaits you. You will, no doubt, have the opportunity of
describing in the Field how you brought down the rocketing dimorphodon.
And good-bye to you also, Professor Summerlee. If you are still
capable of self-improvement, of which I am frankly unconvinced,
you will surely return to London a wiser man."
So he turned upon his heel, and a minute later from the deck I
could see his short, squat figure bobbing about in the distance
as he made his way back to his train. Well, we are well down
Channel now. There's the last bell for letters, and it's
good-bye to the pilot. We'll be "down, hull-down, on the old
trail" from now on. God bless all we leave behind us, and send
us safely back.
"To-morrow we Disappear into the Unknown"
I will not bore those whom this narrative may reach by an account
of our luxurious voyage upon the Booth liner, nor will I tell of
our week's stay at Para (save that I should wish to acknowledge
the great kindness of the Pereira da Pinta Company in helping us
to get together our equipment). I will also allude very briefly
to our river journey, up a wide, slow-moving, clay-tinted stream,
in a steamer which was little smaller than that which had carried
us across the Atlantic. Eventually we found ourselves through
the narrows of Obidos and reached the town of Manaos. Here we
were rescued from the limited attractions of the local inn by
Mr. Shortman, the representative of the British and Brazilian
Trading Company. In his hospital Fazenda we spent our time until
the day when we were empowered to open the letter of instructions
given to us by Professor Challenger. Before I reach the surprising
events of that date I would desire to give a clearer sketch of my
comrades in this enterprise, and of the associates whom we had
already gathered together in South America. I speak freely, and
I leave the use of my material to your own discretion, Mr.
McArdle, since it is through your hands that this report must
pass before it reaches the world.
The scientific attainments of Professor Summerlee are too well
known for me to trouble to recapitulate them. He is better
equipped for a rough expedition of this sort than one would
imagine at first sight. His tall, gaunt, stringy figure is
insensible to fatigue, and his dry, half-sarcastic, and often
wholly unsympathetic manner is uninfluenced by any change in
his surroundings. Though in his sixty-sixth year, I have never
heard him express any dissatisfaction at the occasional hardships
which we have had to encounter. I had regarded his presence as an
encumbrance to the expedition, but, as a matter of fact, I am now
well convinced that his power of endurance is as great as my own.
In temper he is naturally acid and sceptical. From the beginning
he has never concealed his belief that Professor Challenger is
an absolute fraud, that we are all embarked upon an absurd
wild-goose chase and that we are likely to reap nothing but
disappointment and danger in South America, and corresponding
ridicule in England. Such are the views which, with much
passionate distortion of his thin features and wagging of his
thin, goat-like beard, he poured into our ears all the way from
Southampton to Manaos. Since landing from the boat he has
obtained some consolation from the beauty and variety of the
insect and bird life around him, for he is absolutely
whole-hearted in his devotion to science. He spends his days
flitting through the woods with his shot-gun and his
butterfly-net, and his evenings in mounting the many specimens
he has acquired. Among his minor peculiarities are that he is
careless as to his attire, unclean in his person, exceedingly
absent-minded in his habits, and addicted to smoking a short
briar pipe, which is seldom out of his mouth. He has been upon
several scientific expeditions in his youth (he was with
Robertson in Papua), and the life of the camp and the canoe is
nothing fresh to him.
Lord John Roxton has some points in common with Professor
Summerlee, and others in which they are the very antithesis to
each other. He is twenty years younger, but has something of the
same spare, scraggy physique. As to his appearance, I have, as I
recollect, described it in that portion of my narrative which I
have left behind me in London. He is exceedingly neat and prim
in his ways, dresses always with great care in white drill suits
and high brown mosquito-boots, and shaves at least once a day.
Like most men of action, he is laconic in speech, and sinks
readily into his own thoughts, but he is always quick to answer a
question or join in a conversation, talking in a queer, jerky,
half-humorous fashion. His knowledge of the world, and very
especially of South America, is surprising, and he has a
whole-hearted belief in the possibilities of our journey which is
not to be dashed by the sneers of Professor Summerlee. He has a
gentle voice and a quiet manner, but behind his twinkling blue
eyes there lurks a capacity for furious wrath and implacable
resolution, the more dangerous because they are held in leash.
He spoke little of his own exploits in Brazil and Peru, but it
was a revelation to me to find the excitement which was caused by
his presence among the riverine natives, who looked upon him as
their champion and protector. The exploits of the Red Chief, as
they called him, had become legends among them, but the real
facts, as far as I could learn them, were amazing enough.
These were that Lord John had found himself some years before in
that no-man's-land which is formed by the half-defined frontiers
between Peru, Brazil, and Columbia. In this great district the
wild rubber tree flourishes, and has become, as in the Congo, a
curse to the natives which can only be compared to their forced
labor under the Spaniards upon the old silver mines of Darien.
A handful of villainous half-breeds dominated the country, armed
such Indians as would support them, and turned the rest into
slaves, terrorizing them with the most inhuman tortures in order
to force them to gather the india-rubber, which was then floated
down the river to Para. Lord John Roxton expostulated on behalf
of the wretched victims, and received nothing but threats and
insults for his pains. He then formally declared war against
Pedro Lopez, the leader of the slave-drivers, enrolled a band of
runaway slaves in his service, armed them, and conducted a
campaign, which ended by his killing with his own hands the
notorious half-breed and breaking down the system which he represented.
No wonder that the ginger-headed man with the silky voice and the
free and easy manners was now looked upon with deep interest upon
the banks of the great South American river, though the feelings
he inspired were naturally mixed, since the gratitude of the
natives was equaled by the resentment of those who desired to
exploit them. One useful result of his former experiences was
that he could talk fluently in the Lingoa Geral, which is the
peculiar talk, one-third Portuguese and two-thirds Indian, which
is current all over Brazil.
I have said before that Lord John Roxton was a South Americomaniac.
He could not speak of that great country without ardor, and this
ardor was infectious, for, ignorant as I was, he fixed my
attention and stimulated my curiosity. How I wish I could
reproduce the glamour of his discourses, the peculiar mixture
of accurate knowledge and of racy imagination which gave them
their fascination, until even the Professor's cynical and
sceptical smile would gradually vanish from his thin face as
he listened. He would tell the history of the mighty river so
rapidly explored (for some of the first conquerors of Peru
actually crossed the entire continent upon its waters), and yet
so unknown in regard to all that lay behind its ever-changing banks.
"What is there?" he would cry, pointing to the north. "Wood and
marsh and unpenetrated jungle. Who knows what it may shelter?
And there to the south? A wilderness of swampy forest, where
no white man has ever been. The unknown is up against us on
every side. Outside the narrow lines of the rivers what does
anyone know? Who will say what is possible in such a country?
Why should old man Challenger not be right?" At which direct
defiance the stubborn sneer would reappear upon Professor
Summerlee's face, and he would sit, shaking his sardonic head
in unsympathetic silence, behind the cloud of his briar-root pipe.
So much, for the moment, for my two white companions, whose
characters and limitations will be further exposed, as surely as
my own, as this narrative proceeds. But already we have enrolled
certain retainers who may play no small part in what is to come.
The first is a gigantic negro named Zambo, who is a black
Hercules, as willing as any horse, and about as intelligent.
Him we enlisted at Para, on the recommendation of the steamship
company, on whose vessels he had learned to speak a halting English.
It was at Para also that we engaged Gomez and Manuel, two
half-breeds from up the river, just come down with a cargo
of redwood. They were swarthy fellows, bearded and fierce,
as active and wiry as panthers. Both of them had spent their
lives in those upper waters of the Amazon which we were about
to explore, and it was this recommendation which had caused Lord
John to engage them. One of them, Gomez, had the further
advantage that he could speak excellent English. These men were
willing to act as our personal servants, to cook, to row, or to
make themselves useful in any way at a payment of fifteen dollars
a month. Besides these, we had engaged three Mojo Indians from
Bolivia, who are the most skilful at fishing and boat work of all
the river tribes. The chief of these we called Mojo, after his
tribe, and the others are known as Jose and Fernando. Three white
men, then, two half-breeds, one negro, and three Indians made up
the personnel of the little expedition which lay waiting for its
instructions at Manaos before starting upon its singular quest.
At last, after a weary week, the day had come and the hour.
I ask you to picture the shaded sitting-room of the Fazenda St.
Ignatio, two miles inland from the town of Manaos. Outside lay
the yellow, brassy glare of the sunshine, with the shadows of the
palm trees as black and definite as the trees themselves. The air
was calm, full of the eternal hum of insects, a tropical chorus
of many octaves, from the deep drone of the bee to the high,
keen pipe of the mosquito. Beyond the veranda was a small
cleared garden, bounded with cactus hedges and adorned with
clumps of flowering shrubs, round which the great blue butterflies
and the tiny humming-birds fluttered and darted in crescents of
sparkling light. Within we were seated round the cane table,
on which lay a sealed envelope. Inscribed upon it, in the jagged
handwriting of Professor Challenger, were the words:--
"Instructions to Lord John Roxton and party. To be opened at
Manaos upon July 15th, at 12 o'clock precisely."
Lord John had placed his watch upon the table beside him.
"We have seven more minutes," said he. "The old dear is very precise."
Professor Summerlee gave an acid smile as he picked up the
envelope in his gaunt hand.
"What can it possibly matter whether we open it now or in seven
minutes?" said he. "It is all part and parcel of the same system
of quackery and nonsense, for which I regret to say that the
writer is notorious."
"Oh, come, we must play the game accordin' to rules," said Lord John.
"It's old man Challenger's show and we are here by his good will,
so it would be rotten bad form if we didn't follow his instructions
to the letter."
"A pretty business it is!" cried the Professor, bitterly.
"It struck me as preposterous in London, but I'm bound to say
that it seems even more so upon closer acquaintance. I don't
know what is inside this envelope, but, unless it is something
pretty definite, I shall be much tempted to take the next down-
river boat and catch the Bolivia at Para. After all, I have
some more responsible work in the world than to run about
disproving the assertions of a lunatic. Now, Roxton, surely
it is time."
"Time it is," said Lord John. "You can blow the whistle."
He took up the envelope and cut it with his penknife. From it
he drew a folded sheet of paper. This he carefully opened out
and flattened on the table. It was a blank sheet. He turned
it over. Again it was blank. We looked at each other in a
bewildered silence, which was broken by a discordant burst of
derisive laughter from Professor Summerlee.
"It is an open admission," he cried. "What more do you want?
The fellow is a self-confessed humbug. We have only to return
home and report him as the brazen imposter that he is."
"Invisible ink!" I suggested.
"I don't think!" said Lord Roxton, holding the paper to the light.
"No, young fellah my lad, there is no use deceiving yourself.
I'll go bail for it that nothing has ever been written upon
"May I come in?" boomed a voice from the veranda.
The shadow of a squat figure had stolen across the patch of sunlight.
That voice! That monstrous breadth of shoulder! We sprang to our
feet with a gasp of astonishment as Challenger, in a round, boyish
straw-hat with a colored ribbon--Challenger, with his hands in his
jacket-pockets and his canvas shoes daintily pointing as he walked--
appeared in the open space before us. He threw back his head, and
there he stood in the golden glow with all his old Assyrian
luxuriance of beard, all his native insolence of drooping eyelids
and intolerant eyes.
"I fear," said he, taking out his watch, "that I am a few minutes
too late. When I gave you this envelope I must confess that I
had never intended that you should open it, for it had been my
fixed intention to be with you before the hour. The unfortunate
delay can be apportioned between a blundering pilot and an
intrusive sandbank. I fear that it has given my colleague,
Professor Summerlee, occasion to blaspheme."
"I am bound to say, sir," said Lord John, with some sternness of
voice, "that your turning up is a considerable relief to us, for
our mission seemed to have come to a premature end. Even now I
can't for the life of me understand why you should have worked it
in so extraordinary a manner."
Instead of answering, Professor Challenger entered, shook hands
with myself and Lord John, bowed with ponderous insolence to
Professor Summerlee, and sank back into a basket-chair, which
creaked and swayed beneath his weight.
"Is all ready for your journey?" he asked.
"We can start to-morrow."
"Then so you shall. You need no chart of directions now, since
you will have the inestimable advantage of my own guidance.
From the first I had determined that I would myself preside over
your investigation. The most elaborate charts would, as you
will readily admit, be a poor substitute for my own intelligence
and advice. As to the small ruse which I played upon you in the
matter of the envelope, it is clear that, had I told you all my
intentions, I should have been forced to resist unwelcome
pressure to travel out with you."
"Not from me, sir!" exclaimed Professor Summerlee, heartily.
"So long as there was another ship upon the Atlantic."
Challenger waved him away with his great hairy hand.
"Your common sense will, I am sure, sustain my objection and
realize that it was better that I should direct my own movements
and appear only at the exact moment when my presence was needed.
That moment has now arrived. You are in safe hands. You will
not now fail to reach your destination. From henceforth I take
command of this expedition, and I must ask you to complete your
preparations to-night, so that we may be able to make an early
start in the morning. My time is of value, and the same thing
may be said, no doubt, in a lesser degree of your own. I propose,
therefore, that we push on as rapidly as possible, until I have
demonstrated what you have come to see."
Lord John Roxton has chartered a large steam launch, the Esmeralda,
which was to carry us up the river. So far as climate goes, it
was immaterial what time we chose for our expedition, as the
temperature ranges from seventy-five to ninety degrees both
summer and winter, with no appreciable difference in heat.
In moisture, however, it is otherwise; from December to May is
the period of the rains, and during this time the river slowly
rises until it attains a height of nearly forty feet above its
low-water mark. It floods the banks, extends in great lagoons
over a monstrous waste of country, and forms a huge district,
called locally the Gapo, which is for the most part too marshy
for foot-travel and too shallow for boating. About June the
waters begin to fall, and are at their lowest at October
or November. Thus our expedition was at the time of the dry
season, when the great river and its tributaries were more or
less in a normal condition.
The current of the river is a slight one, the drop being not
greater than eight inches in a mile. No stream could be more
convenient for navigation, since the prevailing wind is
south-east, and sailing boats may make a continuous progress to
the Peruvian frontier, dropping down again with the current.
In our own case the excellent engines of the Esmeralda could
disregard the sluggish flow of the stream, and we made as rapid
progress as if we were navigating a stagnant lake. For three
days we steamed north-westwards up a stream which even here, a
thousand miles from its mouth, was still so enormous that from
its center the two banks were mere shadows upon the distant skyline.
On the fourth day after leaving Manaos we turned into a tributary
which at its mouth was little smaller than the main stream.
It narrowed rapidly, however, and after two more days' steaming
we reached an Indian village, where the Professor insisted that
we should land, and that the Esmeralda should be sent back to Manaos.
We should soon come upon rapids, he explained, which would make its
further use impossible. He added privately that we were now
approaching the door of the unknown country, and that the fewer
whom we took into our confidence the better it would be. To this
end also he made each of us give our word of honor that we would
publish or say nothing which would give any exact clue as to the
whereabouts of our travels, while the servants were all solemnly
sworn to the same effect. It is for this reason that I am
compelled to be vague in my narrative, and I would warn my readers
that in any map or diagram which I may give the relation of places
to each other may be correct, but the points of the compass are
carefully confused, so that in no way can it be taken as an actual
guide to the country. Professor Challenger's reasons for secrecy
may be valid or not, but we had no choice but to adopt them,
for he was prepared to abandon the whole expedition rather than
modify the conditions upon which he would guide us.
It was August 2nd when we snapped our last link with the outer
world by bidding farewell to the Esmeralda. Since then four days
have passed, during which we have engaged two large canoes from
the Indians, made of so light a material (skins over a bamboo
framework) that we should be able to carry them round any obstacle.
These we have loaded with all our effects, and have engaged two
additional Indians to help us in the navigation. I understand
that they are the very two--Ataca and Ipetu by name--who
accompanied Professor Challenger upon his previous journey.
They appeared to be terrified at the prospect of repeating it,
but the chief has patriarchal powers in these countries, and
if the bargain is good in his eyes the clansman has little
choice in the matter.
So to-morrow we disappear into the unknown. This account I am
transmitting down the river by canoe, and it may be our last word
to those who are interested in our fate. I have, according to
our arrangement, addressed it to you, my dear Mr. McArdle, and I
leave it to your discretion to delete, alter, or do what you like
with it. From the assurance of Professor Challenger's manner--and
in spite of the continued scepticism of Professor Summerlee--I
have no doubt that our leader will make good his statement, and
that we are really on the eve of some most remarkable experiences.
"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
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
"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,
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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.
"Who could have Foreseen it?"
A dreadful thing has happened to us. Who could have foreseen it?
I cannot foresee any end to our troubles. It may be that we are
condemned to spend our whole lives in this strange, inaccessible place.
I am still so confused that I can hardly think clearly of the facts
of the present or of the chances of the future. To my astounded
senses the one seems most terrible and the other as black as night.
No men have ever found themselves in a worse position; nor is
there any use in disclosing to you our exact geographical
situation and asking our friends for a relief party. Even if
they could send one, our fate will in all human probability 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 we are to win through, it is only our own qualities
which can save us. I have as companions three remarkable men, men
of great brain-power and of unshaken courage. There lies our one
and only hope. It is only when I look upon the untroubled 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 filled with apprehension.
Let me give you, with as much detail as I can, the sequence of
events which have led us to this catastrophe.
When I finished my last letter I stated that we were within seven
miles from an enormous line of ruddy cliffs, which encircled,
beyond all doubt, the plateau of which Professor Challenger spoke.
Their height, as we approached them, seemed to me in some places
to be greater than he had stated--running up in parts to at least
a thousand feet--and they were curiously striated, in a manner
which is, I believe, characteristic of basaltic upheavals.
Something of the sort is to be seen in Salisbury Crags at Edinburgh.
The summit showed every sign of a luxuriant vegetation, with bushes
near the edge, and farther back 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 and desolate spot. The crags above us were not merely
perpendicular, but curved outwards at the top, so that ascent was
out of the question. Close to us was the high thin pinnacle of
rock which I believe I mentioned earlier in this narrative. It is
like a broad red church spire, the top of it being level with the
plateau, but a great chasm gaping between. On the summit of it
there grew one high tree. Both pinnacle and cliff were
comparatively low--some five or six hundred feet, I should think.
"It was on that," said Professor Challenger, pointing to this
tree, "that the pterodactyl was perched. I climbed half-way up
the rock before I shot him. I am inclined to think that a good
mountaineer like myself could ascend the rock to the top, though
he would, of course, be no nearer to the plateau when he had done so."
As Challenger spoke of his pterodactyl I glanced at Professor
Summerlee, and for the first time I seemed to see some signs of a
dawning credulity and repentance. There was no sneer upon his
thin lips, but, on the contrary, a gray, drawn look of excitement
and amazement. Challenger saw it, too, and reveled in the first
taste of victory.
"Of course," said he, with his clumsy and ponderous sarcasm,
"Professor Summerlee will understand that when I speak of a
pterodactyl I mean a stork--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 bowed until his colleague
turned and walked away.
In the morning, after a frugal breakfast of coffee and manioc--we
had to be economical of our stores--we held a council of war as
to the best method of ascending to the plateau above us.
Challenger presided with a solemnity as if he were the Lord Chief
Justice on the Bench. Picture him seated upon a rock, his absurd
boyish straw hat tilted on the back of his head, his supercilious
eyes dominating us from under his drooping lids, his great black
beard wagging as he slowly defined our present situation and our
Beneath him you might have seen the three of us--myself,
sunburnt, young, and vigorous 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
the speaker. Behind us were grouped the two swarthy half-breeds
and the little knot of Indians, while in front and above us towered
those huge, ruddy ribs of rocks which kept us from our goal.
"I need not say," said our leader, "that on the occasion of my
last visit I exhausted every means of climbing the cliff, and
where I failed I do not think that anyone else is likely to
succeed, for I am something of a mountaineer. I had none of the
appliances of a rock-climber with me, but I have taken the
precaution to bring them now. With their aid I am positive I
could climb that detached pinnacle to the summit; but so long as
the main cliff overhangs, it is vain to attempt ascending that.
I was hurried upon my last visit by the approach of the rainy
season and by the exhaustion of my supplies. These considerations
limited my time, and I can only claim that I have surveyed about
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.
"If you have explored the east, we should travel along the base of the
cliff to the 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 great size, and we shall travel round it until we either find an
easy way up it, or come back to the point from which we started."
"I have already explained to our young friend here," said
Challenger (he has a way of alluding to me as if I were a school
child ten years old), "that it is quite impossible that there
should be an easy way up anywhere, for the simple reason that if
there were the summit would not be isolated, and those conditions
would not obtain which have effected so singular an interference
with the general laws of survival. Yet I admit that there may
very well be places where an expert human climber may reach the
summit, and yet a cumbrous and heavy animal be unable to descend.
It is certain that there is a point where an ascent is possible."
"How do you know that, sir?" asked Summerlee, sharply.
"Because my predecessor, the American Maple White, actually made
such an ascent. How otherwise could he have seen the monster
which he sketched in his notebook?"
"There you reason somewhat ahead of the proved facts," said the
stubborn Summerlee. "I admit your plateau, because I have seen
it; but I have not as yet satisfied myself that it contains any
form of life whatever."
"What you admit, sir, or what you do not admit, is really of
inconceivably small importance. I am glad to perceive that the
plateau itself has actually obtruded itself upon your intelligence."
He glanced up at it, and then, to our amazement, he sprang from his
rock, and, seizing Summerlee by the neck, he tilted 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.
Out of this there had emerged a black, glistening object. As it came
slowly forth and overhung the chasm, we saw that it was a very large
snake with a peculiar flat, spade-like head. It wavered and quivered
above us for a minute, the morning sun gleaming upon its sleek,
sinuous coils. Then it slowly drew inwards and disappeared.
Summerlee had been so interested that he had stood unresisting
while Challenger tilted his head into the air. Now he shook his
colleague off and came back to his dignity.
"I should be glad, Professor Challenger," said he, "if you could
see your way to 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 justify such a liberty."
"But there is life upon the plateau all the same," his colleague
replied in triumph. "And now, having demonstrated this important
conclusion so that it is clear to anyone, however prejudiced or
obtuse, I am of opinion that we cannot do better than break up
our camp and travel to westward until we find some means of ascent."
The ground at the foot of the cliff was rocky and broken so that
the going was slow and difficult. Suddenly we came, however,
upon something which cheered our hearts. It was the site of an
old encampment, with several empty Chicago meat tins, a bottle
labeled "Brandy," a broken tin-opener, and a quantity of other
travelers' debris. A crumpled, disintegrated newspaper revealed
itself as 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
overshadowed the encampment. "I say, look at this," said he.
"I believe it is meant for a sign-post."
A slip of hard wood had been nailed to the tree in such a way as
to point to the westward.
"Most certainly a sign-post," said Challenger. "What else?
Finding himself upon a dangerous errand, our pioneer has left
this sign so that any party which follows him may know the way he
has taken. Perhaps we shall come upon some other indications as
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 were twenty feet high, with sharp, strong tops, so that
even as they stood they made formidable spears. We were passing
along the edge of this cover when my eye was caught by the gleam of
something white within it. Thrusting in my head between the stems,
I found myself gazing at a fleshless skull. The whole skeleton was
there, but the skull had detached itself and lay some feet nearer to
With a few blows from the machetes of our Indians we cleared the
spot and were able to study the details of this old tragedy.
Only a few shreds of clothes could still be distinguished, but
there were the remains of boots upon the bony feet, and it was
very clear that the dead man was a European. A gold watch by
Hudson, of New York, and a chain which held a stylographic pen,
lay among 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 the catastrophe had occurred no great
"Who can he be?" asked Lord John. "Poor devil! every bone in his
body seems to be broken."
"And the bamboo grows through his smashed ribs," said Summerlee.
"It is a fast-growing plant, but it is surely inconceivable that
this body could have been here while the canes grew to be twenty
feet in length."
"As to the man's identity," said Professor Challenger, "I have no
doubt whatever upon that point. As I made my way up the river
before I reached you at the fazenda I instituted very particular
inquiries about Maple White. At Para they knew nothing.
Fortunately, I had a definite clew, for there was a particular
picture in his sketch-book which showed him taking lunch with a
certain ecclesiastic at Rosario. This priest I was able to find,
and though he proved a very argumentative fellow, who took it
absurdly amiss that I should point out to him the corrosive
effect which modern science must have upon his beliefs, he none
the less gave me some positive information. Maple White passed
Rosario four years ago, or two years before I saw his dead body.
He was not 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 remains of this James Colver."
"Nor," said Lord John, "is there much doubt as to how he met
his death. He has fallen or been chucked from the top, and so
been impaled. How else could he come by his broken bones, and
how could he have been stuck through by these canes with their
points so high above our heads?"
A hush came over us as we stood round these shattered remains and
realized the truth of Lord John Roxton's words. The beetling
head of the cliff projected over the cane-brake. Undoubtedly he
had fallen from above. But had he fallen? Had it been an accident?
Or--already ominous and terrible possibilities began to 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 and towering high above the
mast-heads of the exploring vessel.
In five miles we saw no rift or break. And then suddenly we
perceived something which filled us with new hope. In a hollow
of the rock, protected from rain, there was drawn a rough arrow
in chalk, pointing still to the westwards.
"Maple White again," said Professor Challenger. "He had some
presentiment that worthy footsteps would follow close behind him."
"He had chalk, then?"
"A box of colored chalks was among the effects I found in
his knapsack. I remember that the white one was worn to a stump."
"That is certainly good evidence," said Summerlee. "We can only
accept his guidance and follow on to the westward."
We had proceeded some five more miles when again we saw a white
arrow upon the rocks. It was at a point where the face of the
cliff was for the first time split into a narrow cleft. Inside the
cleft was a second guidance mark, which pointed right up it with
the tip somewhat elevated, as if the spot indicated were above
the level of the ground.
It was a solemn place, for the walls were so gigantic and the
slit of blue sky so narrow and so obscured by a double fringe
of verdure, that only a dim and shadowy light penetrated to
the bottom. We had had no food for many hours, and were very
weary with the stony and irregular journey, but our nerves were
too strung 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 closed until 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 made our way back--the
whole gorge was not more than a quarter of a mile deep--and
then suddenly the quick eyes of Lord John fell upon what we
were seeking. High up above our heads, amid the dark shadows,
there was one circle of deeper gloom. 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 not difficult to clamber up. When we reached it, all
doubt was removed. Not only was it an opening into the rock, but
on the side of it there was marked once again the sign of the arrow.
Here was the point, and this the means by which Maple White and his
ill-fated comrade had made their ascent.
We were too excited to return to the camp, but must make our
first exploration at once. Lord John had an electric torch in
his knapsack, and this had to serve us as light. He advanced,
throwing his little clear circlet of yellow radiance before him,
while in single file we followed at his heels.
The cave had evidently been water-worn, the sides being smooth
and the floor covered with rounded stones. It was of such a size
that a single man could just fit through by stooping. For fifty
yards it ran almost straight into the rock, and then it ascended
at an angle of forty-five. Presently this incline became even
steeper, and we found ourselves climbing upon hands and knees
among loose rubble which slid from beneath us. Suddenly an
exclamation broke from Lord Roxton.
"It's blocked!" said he.
Clustering behind him we saw in the yellow field of light a wall
of broken basalt 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 larger ones became detached and threatened to roll down
the gradient and crush us. It was evident that the obstacle was
far beyond any efforts which we could make to remove it. The road
by which Maple White had ascended was no longer available.
Too much cast down to speak, we stumbled down the dark tunnel and
made our way back to the camp.
One incident occurred, however, before we left the gorge, which
is of importance in view of what came afterwards.
We had gathered in a little group at the bottom of the chasm,
some forty feet beneath the mouth of the cave, when a huge rock
rolled suddenly downwards--and shot past us with tremendous force.
It was the narrowest escape for one or all of us. We could not
ourselves see whence the rock had come, but our half-breed
servants, who were still at the opening of the cave, said that
it had flown past them, and must therefore have fallen from
the summit. Looking upwards, we could see no sign of movement
above us amidst the green jungle which topped the cliff.
There could be little doubt, however, that the stone was aimed
at us, so the incident surely pointed to humanity--and malevolent
humanity--upon the plateau.
We withdrew hurriedly from the chasm, our minds full of this new
development and its bearing upon our plans. The situation was
difficult enough before, but if the obstructions of Nature were
increased by the deliberate opposition of man, then our case was
indeed a hopeless one. And yet, as we looked up at that
beautiful fringe of verdure only a few hundreds of feet above
our heads, there was not one of us who could conceive the idea
of returning to London until we had explored it to its depths.
On discussing the situation, we determined that our best course
was to continue to coast round the plateau in the hope of finding
some other means of reaching the top. The line of cliffs, which
had decreased considerably in height, had already begun to trend
from west to north, and if we could take this as representing the
arc of a circle, the whole circumference could not be very great.
At the worst, then, we should be back in a few days at our
We made a march that day which totaled some two-and-twenty miles,
without any change in our prospects. I may mention that our
aneroid shows us that in the continual incline which we have
ascended since we abandoned our canoes we have risen to no less
than three thousand feet above sea-level. Hence there is a
considerable change both in the temperature and in the vegetation.
We have shaken off some of that horrible insect life which is
the bane of tropical travel. A few palms still survive, and many
tree-ferns, but the Amazonian trees have been all left behind.
It was pleasant to see the convolvulus, the passion-flower, and
the begonia, all reminding me of home, here among these
inhospitable rocks. There was a red begonia just the same color
as one that is kept in a pot in the window of a certain villa
in Streatham--but I am drifting into private reminiscence.
That night--I am still speaking of the first day of our
circumnavigation of the plateau--a great experience awaited us,
and one which for ever set at rest any doubt 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 the first time that the paper has not sent me on a
wild-goose chase, and that there is inconceivably fine copy
waiting for the world whenever we have the Professor's leave to
make use of it. I shall not dare to publish these articles
unless I can bring back my proofs to England, or I shall be
hailed as the journalistic Munchausen of all time. I have no
doubt that you feel the same way yourself, and that you would not
care to stake the whole credit of the Gazette upon this adventure
until we can meet the chorus of criticism and scepticism which
such articles must of necessity elicit. So this wonderful
incident, which would make such a headline for the old paper,
must still wait its turn in the editorial drawer.
And yet it was all over in a flash, and there was no sequel to it,
save in our own 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 cooking the other half upon our fire. There is
a chill in the air after dark, and we had all drawn close to
the blaze. The night was moonless, but there were some stars,
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 a swish like an aeroplane. The whole group of us
were covered for an instant by a canopy of leathery wings, and I
had a momentary vision of a long, snake-like neck, a fierce, red,
greedy eye, and a great snapping beak, filled, to my amazement,
with little, gleaming teeth. The next instant it was gone--and
so was our dinner. A huge black shadow, twenty feet across,
skimmed up into the air; for an instant the monster wings blotted
out the stars, and then it vanished over the brow of the cliff
above us. We all sat in amazed silence round the fire, like the
heroes of Virgil when the Harpies came down upon them. It was
Summerlee who was the first to speak.
"Professor Challenger," said he, in a solemn voice, which
quavered with emotion, "I owe you an apology. Sir, I am very
much in the wrong, and I beg that you will forget what is past."
It was handsomely said, and the two men for the first time shook hands.
So much we have gained by this clear vision of our first pterodactyl.
It was worth a stolen supper to bring two such men together.
But if prehistoric life existed upon the plateau it was not
superabundant, for we had no further glimpse of it during the
next three days. During this time we traversed a barren and
forbidding country, which alternated between stony desert and
desolate marshes full of many wild-fowl, upon the north and
east of the cliffs. From that direction the place is really
inaccessible, and, were it not for a hardish ledge which runs at
the very base of the precipice, we should have had to turn back.
Many times we were up to our waists in the slime and blubber of
an old, semi-tropical swamp. To make matters worse, the place
seemed to be a favorite breeding-place of the Jaracaca snake, the
most venomous and aggressive in South America. Again and again
these horrible creatures came writhing and springing towards us
across the surface of this putrid bog, and it was only by keeping
our shot-guns for ever ready that we could feel safe from them.
One funnel-shaped depression in the morass, of a livid green in
color from some lichen which festered in it, will always remain
as a nightmare memory in my mind. It seems to have been a
special nest of these vermins, and the slopes were alive with
them, all writhing in our direction, for it is a peculiarity
of the Jaracaca that he will always attack man at first sight.
There were too many for us to shoot, so we fairly took to our
heels and ran until we were exhausted. I shall always remember
as we looked back how far behind we could see the heads and necks
of our horrible pursuers rising and falling amid the reeds.
Jaracaca Swamp we named it in the map 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, and they had sunk to three or four hundred feet
in height, but in no place did we find any point where they could
be ascended. If anything, they were more impossible than at the
first point where we had met them. Their absolute steepness 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 way down 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 have conclusively proved by ocular demonstration that there
are no water channels down the rocks."
"Where, then, does it go?" I persisted.
"I think it may be fairly assumed that if it does not come
outwards it must run 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 a considerable sheet of water in the center,
which may drain off, by some subterranean channel, into the marshes
of the Jaracaca Swamp."
"Or evaporation might preserve an equilibrium," remarked
Challenger, and the two 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 found ourselves back at the first camp, beside the isolated
pinnacle of rock. We were a disconsolate party, for nothing
could have been more minute than our investigation, and it was
absolutely certain that there was no single point where the most
active human being could possibly hope to scale the cliff.
The place which Maple White's chalk-marks had indicated as his
own means of access was 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 need replenishment. In a couple of months the rains might
be expected, and we should be washed out of our camp. The rock
was harder than marble, and any attempt at cutting a path for so
great a height was more than our time or resources would admit.
No wonder that we looked gloomily at each other that night, and
sought our blankets with hardly a word exchanged. I remember
that as I dropped off to sleep my last recollection was that
Challenger was squatting, like a monstrous bull-frog, by the fire,
his huge head in his hands, sunk apparently in the deepest thought,
and entirely oblivious to the good-night which I wished him.
But it was a very different Challenger who greeted us in the
morning--a Challenger with contentment and self-congratulation
shining from his whole person. He faced us as we assembled for
breakfast with a deprecating false modesty in his eyes, as who
should say, "I know that I deserve all that you can say, but I
pray you to spare my blushes by not saying it." His beard
bristled exultantly, his chest was thrown out, and his hand was
thrust into the 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 the horrors of the London streets.
"Eureka!" he cried, his teeth shining through his beard.
"Gentlemen, you may congratulate me and we may congratulate
each other. The problem is solved."
"You have found a way up?"
"I venture to think so."
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 climbed we had our companion's assurance. But a horrible
abyss lay between it and the plateau.
"We can never get across," I gasped.
"We can at least all reach the summit," said he. "When we are up
I may be able to 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 his climbing accessories. From it he took a coil of the
strongest and lightest rope, a hundred and fifty feet in length,
with climbing irons, clamps, and other devices. Lord John was
an experienced mountaineer, and Summerlee had done some rough
climbing at various times, so that I was really the novice at
rock-work of the party; but my strength and activity may have
made up for my want of experience.
It was not in reality a very stiff task, though there were
moments which made my hair bristle upon my head. The first half
was perfectly easy, but from there upwards it became continually
steeper until, for the last fifty feet, we were literally
clinging with our fingers and toes to tiny ledges and crevices in
the rock. I could not have accomplished it, nor could Summerlee,
if Challenger had not gained the summit (it was extraordinary to
see such activity in so unwieldy a creature) and there fixed the
rope round the trunk of the considerable tree which grew there.
With this as our support, we were soon able to scramble up the
jagged wall until we found ourselves upon the small grassy
platform, some twenty-five feet each way, which formed the summit.
The first impression which I received when I had recovered my
breath was of the extraordinary view over the country which we
had traversed. The whole Brazilian plain seemed to lie beneath
us, extending away and away until it ended in dim blue mists upon
the farthest sky-line. In the foreground was the long slope,
strewn with rocks and dotted with tree-ferns; farther off in the
middle distance, looking over the saddle-back hill, I could just
see the yellow and green mass of bamboos through which we had
passed; and then, gradually, the vegetation increased until it
formed the huge forest which extended as far as the eyes could
reach, and for a good two thousand miles beyond.
I was still drinking in this wonderful panorama when the heavy
hand of the Professor fell upon my shoulder.
"This way, my young friend," said he; "vestigia nulla retrorsum.
Never look rearwards, 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 was difficult to realize how
inaccessible it remained. At a rough guess the gulf was forty
feet across, but, so far as I could see, it might as well have
been forty miles. I placed one arm round the trunk of the tree
and leaned over the abyss. 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 to which I clung. That smooth bark and those small, ribbed
leaves seemed familiar to 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 I may be allowed to enlarge your simile, an ally of
the first value. This beech tree 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 hour last night in focusing my mind upon
the situation. I have some recollection of once remarking
to our young friend here that G. E. C. is at his best when
his back is to the wall. Last night you will admit that all
our backs were to the wall. But where will-power and intellect
go together, there is always a way out. 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. Challenger had slung the camp axe over his
shoulder when he ascended. Now he handed it to me.
"Our young friend has the thews and sinews," said he. "I think
he will be the most useful at this task. I must beg, however,
that you will kindly refrain from 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 would ensure that it should fall as we desired. It had
already a strong, natural tilt 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 with Lord John.
In a little over an hour there was a loud crack, the tree swayed
forward, and then crashed over, burying its branches among the
bushes on the farther side. The severed trunk rolled to the very
edge of our platform, and for 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 raised his 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--a fitting subject, no doubt, for some future