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.