"Those Were the Real Conquests"
We had imagined that our pursuers, the ape-men, knew nothing of our
brush-wood hiding-place, but we were soon to find out our mistake.
There was no sound in the woods--not a leaf moved upon the trees,
and all was peace around us--but we should have been warned by our
first experience how cunningly and how patiently these creatures
can watch and wait until their chance comes. Whatever fate may be
mine through life, I am very sure that I shall never be nearer death
than I was that morning. But I will tell you the thing in its due order.
We all awoke exhausted after the terrific emotions and scanty
food of yesterday. Summerlee was still so weak that it was an
effort for him to stand; but the old man was full of a sort of
surly courage which would never admit defeat. A council was
held, and it was agreed that we should wait quietly for an hour
or two where we were, have our much-needed breakfast, and then
make our way across the plateau and round the central lake to the
caves where my observations had shown that the Indians lived.
We relied upon the fact that we could count upon the good word
of those whom we had rescued to ensure a warm welcome from
their fellows. Then, with our mission accomplished and possessing
a fuller knowledge of the secrets of Maple White Land, we should
turn our whole thoughts to the vital problem of our escape and return.
Even Challenger was ready to admit that we should then have done
all for which we had come, and that our first duty from that time
onwards was to carry back to civilization the amazing discoveries
we had made.
We were able now to take a more leisurely view of the Indians
whom we had rescued. They were small men, wiry, active, and
well-built, with lank black hair tied up in a bunch behind their
heads with a leathern thong, and leathern also were their
loin-clothes. Their faces were hairless, well formed, and
good-humored. The lobes of their ears, hanging ragged and
bloody, showed that they had been pierced for some ornaments
which their captors had torn out. Their speech, though
unintelligible to us, was fluent among themselves, and as they
pointed to each other and uttered the word "Accala" many times
over, we gathered that this was the name of the nation.
Occasionally, with faces which were convulsed with fear and
hatred, they shook their clenched hands at the woods round and
cried: "Doda! Doda!" which was surely their term for their enemies.
What do you make of them, Challenger?" asked Lord John. "One thing
is very clear to me, and that is that the little chap with the front
of his head shaved is a chief among them."
It was indeed evident that this man stood apart from the others,
and that they never ventured to address him without every sign of
deep respect. He seemed to be the youngest of them all, and yet,
so proud and high was his spirit that, upon Challenger laying his
great hand upon his head, he started like a spurred horse and,
with a quick flash of his dark eyes, moved further away from
the Professor. Then, placing his hand upon his breast and
holding himself with great dignity, he uttered the word "Maretas"
several times. The Professor, unabashed, seized the nearest Indian
by the shoulder and proceeded to lecture upon him as if he were a
potted specimen in a class-room.
"The type of these people," said he in his sonorous fashion,
"whether judged by cranial capacity, facial angle, or any other
test, cannot be regarded as a low one; on the contrary, we must
place it as considerably higher in the scale than many South
American tribes which I can mention. On no possible supposition
can we explain the evolution of such a race in this place.
For that matter, so great a gap separates these ape-men from the
primitive animals which have survived upon this plateau, that it
is inadmissible to think that they could have developed where we
"Then where the dooce did they drop from?" asked Lord John.
"A question which will, no doubt, be eagerly discussed in every
scientific society in Europe and America," the Professor answered.
"My own reading of the situation for what it is worth--" he inflated
his chest enormously and looked insolently around him at the words--
"is that evolution has advanced under the peculiar conditions of
this country up to the vertebrate stage, the old types surviving
and living on in company with the newer ones. Thus we find such
modern creatures as the tapir--an animal with quite a respectable
length of pedigree--the great deer, and the ant-eater in the
companionship of reptilian forms of jurassic type. So much is clear.
And now come the ape-men and the Indian. What is the scientific
mind to think of their presence? I can only account for it by an
invasion from outside. It is probable that there existed an
anthropoid ape in South America, who in past ages found his way
to this place, and that he developed into the creatures we have
seen, some of which"--here he looked hard at me--"were of an
appearance and shape which, if it had been accompanied by
corresponding intelligence, would, I do not hesitate to say,
have reflected credit upon any living race. As to the Indians
I cannot doubt that they are more recent immigrants from below.
Under the stress of famine or of conquest they have made their
way up here. Faced by ferocious creatures which they had never
before seen, they took refuge in the caves which our young friend
has described, but they have no doubt had a bitter fight to hold
their own against wild beasts, and especially against the ape-men
who would regard them as intruders, and wage a merciless war upon
them with a cunning which the larger beasts would lack. Hence the
fact that their numbers appear to be limited. Well, gentlemen,
have I read you the riddle aright, or is there any point which
you would query?"
Professor Summerlee for once was too depressed to argue, though
he shook his head violently as a token of general disagreement.
Lord John merely scratched his scanty locks with the remark that
he couldn't put up a fight as he wasn't in the same weight or class.
For my own part I performed my usual role of bringing things down
to a strictly prosaic and practical level by the remark that one
of the Indians was missing.
"He has gone to fetch some water," said Lord Roxton. "We
him up with an empty beef tin and he is off."
"To the old camp?" I asked.
"No, to the brook. It's among the trees there. It can't be more
than a couple of hundred yards. But the beggar is certainly
taking his time."
"I'll go and look after him," said I. I picked up my rifle and
strolled in the direction of the brook, leaving my friends to lay
out the scanty breakfast. It may seem to you rash that even for
so short a distance I should quit the shelter of our friendly
thicket, but you will remember that we were many miles from
Ape-town, that so far as we knew the creatures had not discovered
our retreat, and that in any case with a rifle in my hands I had
no fear of them. I had not yet learned their cunning or their strength.
I could hear the murmur of our brook somewhere ahead of me, but
there was a tangle of trees and brushwood between me and it.
I was making my way through this at a point which was just out of
sight of my companions, when, under one of the trees, I noticed
something red huddled among the bushes. As I approached it, I
was shocked to see that it was the dead body of the missing Indian.
He lay upon his side, his limbs drawn up, and his head screwed
round at a most unnatural angle, so that he seemed to be looking
straight over his own shoulder. I gave a cry to warn my friends
that something was amiss, and running forwards I stooped over
the body. Surely my guardian angel was very near me then, for
some instinct of fear, or it may have been some faint rustle
of leaves, made me glance upwards. Out of the thick green
foliage which hung low over my head, two long muscular arms
covered with reddish hair were slowly descending. Another instant
and the great stealthy hands would have been round my throat.
I sprang backwards, but quick as I was, those hands were
quicker still. Through my sudden spring they missed a fatal
grip, but one of them caught the back of my neck and the other
one my face. I threw my hands up to protect my throat, and the
next moment the huge paw had slid down my face and closed over them.
I was lifted lightly from the ground, and I felt an intolerable
pressure forcing my head back and back until the strain upon the
cervical spine was more than I could bear. My senses swam, but
I still tore at the hand and forced it out from my chin.
Looking up I saw a frightful face with cold inexorable
light blue eyes looking down into mine. There was something
hypnotic in those terrible eyes. I could struggle no longer.
As the creature felt me grow limp in his grasp, two white canines
gleamed for a moment at each side of the vile mouth, and the grip
tightened still more upon my chin, forcing it always upwards and back.
A thin, oval-tinted mist formed before my eyes and little silvery
bells tinkled in my ears. Dully and far off I heard the crack of
a rifle and was feebly aware of the shock as I was dropped to the
earth, where I lay without sense or motion.
I awoke to find myself on my back upon the grass in our lair
within the thicket. Someone had brought the water from the
brook, and Lord John was sprinkling my head with it, while
Challenger and Summerlee were propping me up, with concern in
their faces. For a moment I had a glimpse of the human spirits
behind their scientific masks. It was really shock, rather than
any injury, which had prostrated me, and in half-an-hour, in
spite of aching head and stiff neck, I was sitting up and ready
"But you've had the escape of your life, young fellah my lad,"
said Lord Roxton. "When I heard your cry and ran forward, and
saw your head twisted half-off and your stohwassers kickin' in
the air, I thought we were one short. I missed the beast in my
flurry, but he dropped you all right and was off like a streak.
By George! I wish I had fifty men with rifles. I'd clear out the
whole infernal gang of them and leave this country a bit cleaner
than we found it."
It was clear now that the ape-men had in some way marked us down,
and that we were watched on every side. We had not so much to
fear from them during the day, but they would be very likely to
rush us by night; so the sooner we got away from their
neighborhood the better. On three sides of us was absolute
forest, and there we might find ourselves in an ambush. But on
the fourth side--that which sloped down in the direction of the
lake--there was only low scrub, with scattered trees and
occasional open glades. It was, in fact, the route which I had
myself taken in my solitary journey, and it led us straight for
the Indian caves. This then must for every reason be our road.
One great regret we had, and that was to leave our old camp
behind us, not only for the sake of the stores which remained
there, but even more because we were losing touch with Zambo, our
link with the outside world. However, we had a fair supply of
cartridges and all our guns, so, for a time at least, we could
look after ourselves, and we hoped soon to have a chance of
returning and restoring our communications with our negro.
He had faithfully promised to stay where he was, and we had not a
doubt that he would be as good as his word.
It was in the early afternoon that we started upon our journey.
The young chief walked at our head as our guide, but refused
indignantly to carry any burden. Behind him came the two
surviving Indians with our scanty possessions upon their backs.
We four white men walked in the rear with rifles loaded and ready.
As we started there broke from the thick silent woods behind us
a sudden great ululation of the ape-men, which may have been a
cheer of triumph at our departure or a jeer of contempt at
our flight. Looking back we saw only the dense screen of trees,
but that long-drawn yell told us how many of our enemies lurked
among them. We saw no sign of pursuit, however, and soon we had
got into more open country and beyond their power.
As I tramped along, the rearmost of the four, I could not help
smiling at the appearance of my three companions in front. Was this
the luxurious Lord John Roxton who had sat that evening in the
Albany amidst his Persian rugs and his pictures in the pink
radiance of the tinted lights? And was this the imposing
Professor who had swelled behind the great desk in his massive
study at Enmore Park? And, finally, could this be the austere and
prim figure which had risen before the meeting at the Zoological
Institute? No three tramps that one could have met in a Surrey
lane could have looked more hopeless and bedraggled. We had, it
is true, been only a week or so upon the top of the plateau, but
all our spare clothing was in our camp below, and the one week
had been a severe one upon us all, though least to me who had not
to endure the handling of the ape-men. My three friends had all
lost their hats, and had now bound handkerchiefs round their heads,
their clothes hung in ribbons about them, and their unshaven grimy
faces were hardly to be recognized. Both Summerlee and Challenger
were limping heavily, while I still dragged my feet from weakness
after the shock of the morning, and my neck was as stiff as a board
from the murderous grip that held it. We were indeed a sorry crew,
and I did not wonder to see our Indian companions glance back at us
occasionally with horror and amazement on their faces.
In the late afternoon we reached the margin of the lake, and as
we emerged from the bush and saw the sheet of water stretching
before us our native friends set up a shrill cry of joy and
pointed eagerly in front of them. It was indeed a wonderful
sight which lay before us. Sweeping over the glassy surface was
a great flotilla of canoes coming straight for the shore upon
which we stood. They were some miles out when we first saw them,
but they shot forward with great swiftness, and were soon so near
that the rowers could distinguish our persons. Instantly a
thunderous shout of delight burst from them, and we saw them rise
from their seats, waving their paddles and spears madly in the air.
Then bending to their work once more, they flew across the
intervening water, beached their boats upon the sloping sand,
and rushed up to us, prostrating themselves with loud cries of
greeting before the young chief. Finally one of them, an elderly
man, with a necklace and bracelet of great lustrous glass beads
and the skin of some beautiful mottled amber-colored animal slung
over his shoulders, ran forward and embraced most tenderly the
youth whom we had saved. He then looked at us and asked some
questions, after which he stepped up with much dignity and
embraced us also each in turn. Then, at his order, the whole
tribe lay down upon the ground before us in homage. Personally I
felt shy and uncomfortable at this obsequious adoration, and I
read the same feeling in the faces of Roxton and Summerlee, but
Challenger expanded like a flower in the sun.
"They may be undeveloped types," said he, stroking his beard
and looking round at them, "but their deportment in the
presence of their superiors might be a lesson to some of our
more advanced Europeans. Strange how correct are the instincts
of the natural man!"
It was clear that the natives had come out upon the war-path, for
every man carried his spear--a long bamboo tipped with bone--his
bow and arrows, and some sort of club or stone battle-axe slung
at his side. Their dark, angry glances at the woods from which
we had come, and the frequent repetition of the word "Doda," made
it clear enough that this was a rescue party who had set forth to
save or revenge the old chief's son, for such we gathered that
the youth must be. A council was now held by the whole tribe
squatting in a circle, whilst we sat near on a slab of basalt and
watched their proceedings. Two or three warriors spoke, and
finally our young friend made a spirited harangue with such
eloquent features and gestures that we could understand it all as
clearly as if we had known his language.
"What is the use of returning?" he said. "Sooner or later
thing must be done. Your comrades have been murdered. What if
I have returned safe? These others have been done to death.
There is no safety for any of us. We are assembled now and ready."
Then he pointed to us. "These strange men are our friends.
They are great fighters, and they hate the ape-men even as we do.
They command," here he pointed up to heaven, "the thunder and
the lightning. When shall we have such a chance again? Let us go
forward, and either die now or live for the future in safety.
How else shall we go back unashamed to our women?"
The little red warriors hung upon the words of the speaker, and
when he had finished they burst into a roar of applause, waving
their rude weapons in the air. The old chief stepped forward to
us, and asked us some questions, pointing at the same time to
the woods. Lord John made a sign to him that he should wait for
an answer and then he turned to us.
"Well, it's up to you to say what you will do," said he; "for
part I have a score to settle with these monkey-folk, and if it
ends by wiping them off the face of the earth I don't see that
the earth need fret about it. I'm goin' with our little red pals
and I mean to see them through the scrap. What do you say,
"Of course I will come."
"And you, Challenger?"
"I will assuredly co-operate."
"And you, Summerlee?"
"We seem to be drifting very far from the object of this
expedition, Lord John. I assure you that I little thought when I
left my professional chair in London that it was for the purpose
of heading a raid of savages upon a colony of anthropoid apes."
"To such base uses do we come," said Lord John, smiling. "But
are up against it, so what's the decision?"
"It seems a most questionable step," said Summerlee,
argumentative to the last, "but if you are all going, I hardly
see how I can remain behind."
"Then it is settled," said Lord John, and turning to the chief
nodded and slapped his rifle.
The old fellow clasped our hands, each in turn, while his men
cheered louder than ever. It was too late to advance that night,
so the Indians settled down into a rude bivouac. On all sides
their fires began to glimmer and smoke. Some of them who had
disappeared into the jungle came back presently driving a young
iguanodon before them. Like the others, it had a daub of asphalt
upon its shoulder, and it was only when we saw one of the natives
step forward with the air of an owner and give his consent to the
beast's slaughter that we understood at last that these great
creatures were as much private property as a herd of cattle, and
that these symbols which had so perplexed us were nothing more
than the marks of the owner. Helpless, torpid, and vegetarian,
with great limbs but a minute brain, they could be rounded up and
driven by a child. In a few minutes the huge beast had been cut
up and slabs of him were hanging over a dozen camp fires,
together with great scaly ganoid fish which had been speared in
Summerlee had lain down and slept upon the sand, but we others
roamed round the edge of the water, seeking to learn something
more of this strange country. Twice we found pits of blue clay,
such as we had already seen in the swamp of the pterodactyls.
These were old volcanic vents, and for some reason excited the
greatest interest in Lord John. What attracted Challenger, on
the other hand, was a bubbling, gurgling mud geyser, where some
strange gas formed great bursting bubbles upon the surface.
He thrust a hollow reed into it and cried out with delight like a
schoolboy then he was able, on touching it with a lighted match,
to cause a sharp explosion and a blue flame at the far end of
the tube. Still more pleased was he when, inverting a leathern
pouch over the end of the reed, and so filling it with the gas,
he was able to send it soaring up into the air.
"An inflammable gas, and one markedly lighter than the atmosphere.
I should say beyond doubt that it contained a considerable
proportion of free hydrogen. The resources of G. E. C. are not
yet exhausted, my young friend. I may yet show you how a great
mind molds all Nature to its use." He swelled with some secret
purpose, but would say no more.
There was nothing which we could see upon the shore which seemed to
me so wonderful as the great sheet of water before us. Our numbers
and our noise had frightened all living creatures away, and save for
a few pterodactyls, which soared round high above our heads while
they waited for the carrion, all was still around the camp. But it
was different out upon the rose-tinted waters of the central lake.
It boiled and heaved with strange life. Great slate-colored backs
and high serrated dorsal fins shot up with a fringe of silver, and
then rolled down into the depths again. The sand-banks far out
were spotted with uncouth crawling forms, huge turtles, strange
saurians, and one great flat creature like a writhing, palpitating
mat of black greasy leather, which flopped its way slowly to the lake.
Here and there high serpent heads projected out of the water, cutting
swiftly through it with a little collar of foam in front, and a
long swirling wake behind, rising and falling in graceful,
swan-like undulations as they went. It was not until one of
these creatures wriggled on to a sand-bank within a few hundred
yards of us, and exposed a barrel-shaped body and huge flippers
behind the long serpent neck, that Challenger, and Summerlee, who
had joined us, broke out into their duet of wonder and admiration.
"Plesiosaurus! A fresh-water plesiosaurus!" cried Summerlee.
"That I should have lived to see such a sight! We are blessed,
my dear Challenger, above all zoologists since the world began!"
It was not until the night had fallen, and the fires of our
savage allies glowed red in the shadows, that our two men of
science could be dragged away from the fascinations of that
primeval lake. Even in the darkness as we lay upon the strand,
we heard from time to time the snort and plunge of the huge
creatures who lived therein.
At earliest dawn our camp was astir and an hour later we had
started upon our memorable expedition. Often in my dreams have I
thought that I might live to be a war correspondent. In what
wildest one could I have conceived the nature of the campaign
which it should be my lot to report! Here then is my first
despatch from a field of battle:
Our numbers had been reinforced during the night by a fresh batch
of natives from the caves, and we may have been four or five
hundred strong when we made our advance. A fringe of scouts was
thrown out in front, and behind them the whole force in a solid
column made their way up the long slope of the bush country until
we were near the edge of the forest. Here they spread out into
a long straggling line of spearmen and bowmen. Roxton and
Summerlee took their position upon the right flank, while
Challenger and I were on the left. It was a host of the stone
age that we were accompanying to battle--we with the last word of
the gunsmith's art from St. James' Street and the Strand.
We had not long to wait for our enemy. A wild shrill clamor
rose from the edge of the wood and suddenly a body of ape-men
rushed out with clubs and stones, and made for the center of the
Indian line. It was a valiant move but a foolish one, for the
great bandy-legged creatures were slow of foot, while their
opponents were as active as cats. It was horrible to see the
fierce brutes with foaming mouths and glaring eyes, rushing and
grasping, but forever missing their elusive enemies, while arrow
after arrow buried itself in their hides. One great fellow ran
past me roaring with pain, with a dozen darts sticking from his
chest and ribs. In mercy I put a bullet through his skull, and
he fell sprawling among the aloes. But this was the only shot
fired, for the attack had been on the center of the line, and the
Indians there had needed no help of ours in repulsing it. Of all
the ape-men who had rushed out into the open, I do not think that
one got back to cover.
But the matter was more deadly when we came among the trees. For an
hour or more after we entered the wood, there was a desperate
struggle in which for a time we hardly held our own. Springing out
from among the scrub the ape-men with huge clubs broke in upon the
Indians and often felled three or four of them before they could
be speared. Their frightful blows shattered everything upon which
they fell. One of them knocked Summerlee's rifle to matchwood
and the next would have crushed his skull had an Indian not
stabbed the beast to the heart. Other ape-men in the trees above
us hurled down stones and logs of wood, occasionally dropping
bodily on to our ranks and fighting furiously until they were felled.
Once our allies broke under the pressure, and had it not been for
the execution done by our rifles they would certainly have taken
to their heels. But they were gallantly rallied by their old
chief and came on with such a rush that the ape-men began in turn
to give way. Summerlee was weaponless, but I was emptying my
magazine as quick as I could fire, and on the further flank we
heard the continuous cracking of our companion's rifles.
Then in a moment came the panic and the collapse. Screaming and
howling, the great creatures rushed away in all directions
through the brushwood, while our allies yelled in their savage
delight, following swiftly after their flying enemies. All the
feuds of countless generations, all the hatreds and cruelties of
their narrow history, all the memories of ill-usage and
persecution were to be purged that day. At last man was to be
supreme and the man-beast to find forever his allotted place.
Fly as they would the fugitives were too slow to escape from the
active savages, and from every side in the tangled woods we heard
the exultant yells, the twanging of bows, and the crash and thud
as ape-men were brought down from their hiding-places in the trees.
I was following the others, when I found that Lord John and
Challenger had come across to join us.
"It's over," said Lord John. "I think we can leave the tidying
to them. Perhaps the less we see of it the better we shall sleep."
Challenger's eyes were shining with the lust of slaughter.
"We have been privileged," he cried, strutting about like a
gamecock, "to be present at one of the typical decisive battles
of history--the battles which have determined the fate of
the world. What, my friends, is the conquest of one nation
by another? It is meaningless. Each produces the same result.
But those fierce fights, when in the dawn of the ages the
cave-dwellers held their own against the tiger folk, or the
elephants first found that they had a master, those were the real
conquests--the victories that count. By this strange turn of
fate we have seen and helped to decide even such a contest.
Now upon this plateau the future must ever be for man."
It needed a robust faith in the end to justify such tragic means.
As we advanced together through the woods we found the ape-men
lying thick, transfixed with spears or arrows. Here and there a
little group of shattered Indians marked where one of the
anthropoids had turned to bay, and sold his life dearly. Always in
front of us we heard the yelling and roaring which showed the
direction of the pursuit. The ape-men had been driven back to
their city, they had made a last stand there, once again they had
been broken, and now we were in time to see the final fearful
scene of all. Some eighty or a hundred males, the last
survivors, had been driven across that same little clearing which
led to the edge of the cliff, the scene of our own exploit two
days before. As we arrived the Indians, a semicircle of
spearmen, had closed in on them, and in a minute it was over,
Thirty or forty died where they stood. The others, screaming and
clawing, were thrust over the precipice, and went hurtling down,
as their prisoners had of old, on to the sharp bamboos six
hundred feet below. It was as Challenger had said, and the reign
of man was assured forever in Maple White Land. The males were
exterminated, Ape Town was destroyed, the females and young were
driven away to live in bondage, and the long rivalry of untold
centuries had reached its bloody end.
For us the victory brought much advantage. Once again we were
able to visit our camp and get at our stores. Once more also we
were able to communicate with Zambo, who had been terrified by
the spectacle from afar of an avalanche of apes falling from the
edge of the cliff.
"Come away, Massas, come away!" he cried, his eyes starting from
his head. "The debbil get you sure if you stay up there."
"It is the voice of sanity!" said Summerlee with conviction.
"We have had adventures enough and they are neither suitable to
our character or our position. I hold you to your word, Challenger.
From now onwards you devote your energies to getting us out of
this horrible country and back once more to civilization."
Top of Page
Room | The