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| Home | Reading Room The Land that Time Forgot

The Land that Time Forgot
by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Chapter 1

It must have been a little after three o'clock in the afternoon
that it happened--the afternoon of June 3rd, 1916. It seems
incredible that all that I have passed through--all those weird
and terrifying experiences--should have been encompassed within
so short a span as three brief months. Rather might I have
experienced a cosmic cycle, with all its changes and evolutions
for that which I have seen with my own eyes in this brief
interval of time--things that no other mortal eye had seen
before, glimpses of a world past, a world dead, a world so
long dead that even in the lowest Cambrian stratum no trace of
it remains. Fused with the melting inner crust, it has passed
forever beyond the ken of man other than in that lost pocket of
the earth whither fate has borne me and where my doom is sealed.
I am here and here must remain.

After reading this far, my interest, which already had been
stimulated by the finding of the manuscript, was approaching
the boiling-point. I had come to Greenland for the summer, on the
advice of my physician, and was slowly being bored to extinction,
as I had thoughtlessly neglected to bring sufficient reading-matter.
Being an indifferent fisherman, my enthusiasm for this form of
sport soon waned; yet in the absence of other forms of recreation
I was now risking my life in an entirely inadequate boat off Cape
Farewell at the southernmost extremity of Greenland.

Greenland! As a descriptive appellation, it is a sorry joke--but my
story has nothing to do with Greenland, nothing to do with me; so I
shall get through with the one and the other as rapidly as possible.

The inadequate boat finally arrived at a precarious landing, the
natives, waist-deep in the surf, assisting. I was carried ashore,
and while the evening meal was being prepared, I wandered to and
fro along the rocky, shattered shore. Bits of surf-harried
beach clove the worn granite, or whatever the rocks of Cape
Farewell may be composed of, and as I followed the ebbing tide
down one of these soft stretches, I saw the thing. Were one
to bump into a Bengal tiger in the ravine behind the Bimini
Baths, one could be no more surprised than was I to see a
perfectly good quart thermos bottle turning and twisting in the
surf of Cape Farewell at the southern extremity of Greenland.
I rescued it, but I was soaked above the knees doing it; and then
I sat down in the sand and opened it, and in the long twilight
read the manuscript, neatly written and tightly folded, which was
its contents.

You have read the opening paragraph, and if you are an imaginative
idiot like myself, you will want to read the rest of it; so I shall
give it to you here, omitting quotation marks--which are difficult
of remembrance. In two minutes you will forget me.

My home is in Santa Monica. I am, or was, junior member of my
father's firm. We are ship-builders. Of recent years we have
specialized on submarines, which we have built for Germany,
England, France and the United States. I know a sub as a mother
knows her baby's face, and have commanded a score of them on
their trial runs. Yet my inclinations were all toward aviation.
I graduated under Curtiss, and after a long siege with my father
obtained his permission to try for the Lafayette Escadrille. As a
stepping-stone I obtained an appointment in the American ambulance
service and was on my way to France when three shrill whistles
altered, in as many seconds, my entire scheme of life.

I was sitting on deck with some of the fellows who were going
into the American ambulance service with me, my Airedale, Crown
Prince Nobbler, asleep at my feet, when the first blast of the
whistle shattered the peace and security of the ship. Ever since
entering the U-boat zone we had been on the lookout for periscopes,
and children that we were, bemoaning the unkind fate that was to
see us safely into France on the morrow without a glimpse of the
dread marauders. We were young; we craved thrills, and God knows
we got them that day; yet by comparison with that through which I
have since passed they were as tame as a Punch-and-Judy show.

I shall never forget the ashy faces of the passengers as they
stampeded for their life-belts, though there was no panic.
Nobs rose with a low growl. I rose, also, and over the ship's
side, I saw not two hundred yards distant the periscope of a
submarine, while racing toward the liner the wake of a torpedo
was distinctly visible. We were aboard an American ship--which,
of course, was not armed. We were entirely defenseless; yet
without warning, we were being torpedoed.

I stood rigid, spellbound, watching the white wake of the torpedo.
It struck us on the starboard side almost amidships. The vessel
rocked as though the sea beneath it had been uptorn by a mighty volcano.
We were thrown to the decks, bruised and stunned, and then above
the ship, carrying with it fragments of steel and wood and
dismembered human bodies, rose a column of water hundreds of feet
into the air.

The silence which followed the detonation of the exploding torpedo
was almost equally horrifying. It lasted for perhaps two seconds,
to be followed by the screams and moans of the wounded, the cursing
of the men and the hoarse commands of the ship's officers. They were
splendid--they and their crew. Never before had I been so proud of
my nationality as I was that moment. In all the chaos which followed
the torpedoing of the liner no officer or member of the crew lost his
head or showed in the slightest any degree of panic or fear.

While we were attempting to lower boats, the submarine emerged
and trained guns on us. The officer in command ordered us to
lower our flag, but this the captain of the liner refused to do.
The ship was listing frightfully to starboard, rendering the port
boats useless, while half the starboard boats had been demolished
by the explosion. Even while the passengers were crowding the
starboard rail and scrambling into the few boats left to us, the
submarine commenced shelling the ship. I saw one shell burst in
a group of women and children, and then I turned my head and
covered my eyes.

When I looked again to horror was added chagrin, for with the
emerging of the U-boat I had recognized her as a product of
our own shipyard. I knew her to a rivet. I had superintended
her construction. I had sat in that very conning-tower and
directed the efforts of the sweating crew below when first her
prow clove the sunny summer waters of the Pacific; and now this
creature of my brain and hand had turned Frankenstein, bent upon
pursuing me to my death.

A second shell exploded upon the deck. One of the lifeboats,
frightfully overcrowded, swung at a dangerous angle from its davits.
A fragment of the shell shattered the bow tackle, and I saw the
women and children and the men vomited into the sea beneath,
while the boat dangled stern up for a moment from its single
davit, and at last with increasing momentum dived into the midst
of the struggling victims screaming upon the face of the waters.

Now I saw men spring to the rail and leap into the ocean. The deck
was tilting to an impossible angle. Nobs braced himself with all
four feet to keep from slipping into the scuppers and looked up
into my face with a questioning whine. I stooped and stroked
his head.

"Come on, boy!" I cried, and running to the side of the ship,
dived headforemost over the rail. When I came up, the first
thing I saw was Nobs swimming about in a bewildered sort of way
a few yards from me. At sight of me his ears went flat, and his
lips parted in a characteristic grin.

The submarine was withdrawing toward the north, but all the time
it was shelling the open boats, three of them, loaded to the
gunwales with survivors. Fortunately the small boats presented
a rather poor target, which, combined with the bad marksmanship
of the Germans preserved their occupants from harm; and after a
few minutes a blotch of smoke appeared upon the eastern horizon
and the U-boat submerged and disappeared.

All the time the lifeboats has been pulling away from the danger
of the sinking liner, and now, though I yelled at the top of my
lungs, they either did not hear my appeals for help or else did
not dare return to succor me. Nobs and I had gained some little
distance from the ship when it rolled completely over and sank.
We were caught in the suction only enough to be drawn backward
a few yards, neither of us being carried beneath the surface.
I glanced hurriedly about for something to which to cling.
My eyes were directed toward the point at which the liner had
disappeared when there came from the depths of the ocean the
muffled reverberation of an explosion, and almost simultaneously
a geyser of water in which were shattered lifeboats, human bodies,
steam, coal, oil, and the flotsam of a liner's deck leaped high
above the surface of the sea--a watery column momentarily marking
the grave of another ship in this greatest cemetery of the seas.

When the turbulent waters had somewhat subsided and the sea had
ceased to spew up wreckage, I ventured to swim back in search of
something substantial enough to support my weight and that of
Nobs as well. I had gotten well over the area of the wreck when
not a half-dozen yards ahead of me a lifeboat shot bow foremost
out of the ocean almost its entire length to flop down upon its
keel with a mighty splash. It must have been carried far below,
held to its mother ship by a single rope which finally parted to
the enormous strain put upon it. In no other way can I account
for its having leaped so far out of the water--a beneficent
circumstance to which I doubtless owe my life, and that of
another far dearer to me than my own. I say beneficent
circumstance even in the face of the fact that a fate far more
hideous confronts us than that which we escaped that day; for
because of that circumstance I have met her whom otherwise I
never should have known; I have met and loved her. At least I
have had that great happiness in life; nor can Caspak, with all
her horrors, expunge that which has been.

So for the thousandth time I thank the strange fate which sent
that lifeboat hurtling upward from the green pit of destruction
to which it had been dragged--sent it far up above the surface,
emptying its water as it rose above the waves, and dropping it
upon the surface of the sea, buoyant and safe.

It did not take me long to clamber over its side and drag Nobs in
to comparative safety, and then I glanced around upon the scene
of death and desolation which surrounded us. The sea was
littered with wreckage among which floated the pitiful forms
of women and children, buoyed up by their useless lifebelts.
Some were torn and mangled; others lay rolling quietly to the
motion of the sea, their countenances composed and peaceful;
others were set in hideous lines of agony or horror. Close to
the boat's side floated the figure of a girl. Her face was
turned upward, held above the surface by her life-belt, and was
framed in a floating mass of dark and waving hair. She was
very beautiful. I had never looked upon such perfect features,
such a divine molding which was at the same time human--
intensely human. It was a face filled with character and
strength and femininity--the face of one who was created to
love and to be loved. The cheeks were flushed to the hue of
life and health and vitality, and yet she lay there upon the
bosom of the sea, dead. I felt something rise in my throat as
I looked down upon that radiant vision, and I swore that I
should live to avenge her murder.

And then I let my eyes drop once more to the face upon the water,
and what I saw nearly tumbled me backward into the sea, for the
eyes in the dead face had opened; the lips had parted; and one
hand was raised toward me in a mute appeal for succor. She lived!
She was not dead! I leaned over the boat's side and drew her quickly
in to the comparative safety which God had given me. I removed her
life-belt and my soggy coat and made a pillow for her head. I chafed
her hands and arms and feet. I worked over her for an hour, and
at last I was rewarded by a deep sigh, and again those great eyes
opened and looked into mine.

At that I was all embarrassment. I have never been a ladies' man;
at Leland-Stanford I was the butt of the class because of my
hopeless imbecility in the presence of a pretty girl; but the men
liked me, nevertheless. I was rubbing one of her hands when she
opened her eyes, and I dropped it as though it were a red-hot rivet.
Those eyes took me in slowly from head to foot; then they wandered
slowly around the horizon marked by the rising and falling gunwales
of the lifeboat. They looked at Nobs and softened, and then came
back to me filled with questioning.

"I--I--" I stammered, moving away and stumbling over the next thwart.
The vision smiled wanly.

"Aye-aye, sir!" she replied faintly, and again her lips drooped,
and her long lashes swept the firm, fair texture of her skin.

"I hope that you are feeling better," I finally managed to say.

"Do you know," she said after a moment of silence, "I have
been awake for a long time! But I did not dare open my eyes.
I thought I must be dead, and I was afraid to look, for fear
that I should see nothing but blackness about me. I am afraid
to die! Tell me what happened after the ship went down.
I remember all that happened before--oh, but I wish that I
might forget it!" A sob broke her voice. "The beasts!" she
went on after a moment. "And to think that I was to have
married one of them--a lieutenant in the Germany navy."

Presently she resumed as though she had not ceased speaking.
"I went down and down and down. I thought I should never cease
to sink. I felt no particular distress until I suddenly started
upward at ever-increasing velocity; then my lungs seemed about to
burst, and I must have lost consciousness, for I remember nothing
more until I opened my eyes after listening to a torrent of
invective against Germany and Germans. Tell me, please, all that
happened after the ship sank."

I told her, then, as well as I could, all that I had seen--the
submarine shelling the open boats and all the rest of it.
She thought it marvelous that we should have been spared in so
providential a manner, and I had a pretty speech upon my tongue's
end, but lacked the nerve to deliver it. Nobs had come over and
nosed his muzzle into her lap, and she stroked his ugly face, and
at last she leaned over and put her cheek against his forehead.
I have always admired Nobs; but this was the first time that it
had ever occurred to me that I might wish to be Nobs. I wondered
how he would take it, for he is as unused to women as I. But he
took to it as a duck takes to water. What I lack of being a
ladies' man, Nobs certainly makes up for as a ladies' dog.
The old scalawag just closed his eyes and put on one of the
softest "sugar-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth" expressions you ever
saw and stood there taking it and asking for more. It made
me jealous.

"You seem fond of dogs," I said.

"I am fond of this dog," she replied.

Whether she meant anything personal in that reply I did not know;
but I took it as personal and it made me feel mighty good.

As we drifted about upon that vast expanse of loneliness it is
not strange that we should quickly become well acquainted.
Constantly we scanned the horizon for signs of smoke, venturing
guesses as to our chances of rescue; but darkness settled, and
the black night enveloped us without ever the sight of a speck
upon the waters.

We were thirsty, hungry, uncomfortable, and cold. Our wet
garments had dried but little and I knew that the girl must be
in grave danger from the exposure to a night of cold and wet
upon the water in an open boat, without sufficient clothing and
no food. I had managed to bail all the water out of the boat
with cupped hands, ending by mopping the balance up with my
handkerchief--a slow and back-breaking procedure; thus I had
made a comparatively dry place for the girl to lie down low in
the bottom of the boat, where the sides would protect her from
the night wind, and when at last she did so, almost overcome as
she was by weakness and fatigue, I threw my wet coat over her
further to thwart the chill. But it was of no avail; as I sat
watching her, the moonlight marking out the graceful curves of
her slender young body, I saw her shiver.

"Isn't there something I can do?" I asked. "You can't lie there
chilled through all night. Can't you suggest something?"

She shook her head. "We must grin and bear it," she replied
after a moment.

Nobbler came and lay down on the thwart beside me, his back
against my leg, and I sat staring in dumb misery at the girl,
knowing in my heart of hearts that she might die before morning
came, for what with the shock and exposure, she had already gone
through enough to kill almost any woman. And as I gazed down at
her, so small and delicate and helpless, there was born slowly
within my breast a new emotion. It had never been there before;
now it will never cease to be there. It made me almost frantic
in my desire to find some way to keep warm and cooling lifeblood
in her veins. I was cold myself, though I had almost forgotten
it until Nobbler moved and I felt a new sensation of cold along
my leg against which he had lain, and suddenly realized that in
that one spot I had been warm. Like a great light came the
understanding of a means to warm the girl. Immediately I knelt
beside her to put my scheme into practice when suddenly I was
overwhelmed with embarrassment. Would she permit it, even if I
could muster the courage to suggest it? Then I saw her frame
convulse, shudderingly, her muscles reacting to her rapidly
lowering temperature, and casting prudery to the winds, I
threw myself down beside her and took her in my arms, pressing
her body close to mine.

She drew away suddenly, voicing a little cry of fright, and tried
to push me from her.

"Forgive me," I managed to stammer. "It is the only way.
You will die of exposure if you are not warmed, and Nobs and
I are the only means we can command for furnishing warmth."
And I held her tightly while I called Nobs and bade him lie
down at her back. The girl didn't struggle any more when she
learned my purpose; but she gave two or three little gasps,
and then began to cry softly, burying her face on my arm, and
thus she fell asleep.



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