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.
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 historical painting."
He had approached the bridge when Lord John laid his hand upon his coat.
"My dear chap," said he, "I really cannot allow it."
"Cannot allow it, sir!"
The head went back and the beard forward.
"When it is a matter of science, don't you know, I follow your lead because you are by way of bein' a man of science.
But it's up to you to follow me when you come into my department."
"Your department, sir?"
"We all have our professions, and soldierin' is mine.
We are, accordin' to my ideas, invadin' a new country, which may or may not be chock-full of enemies of sorts.
To barge blindly into it for want of a little common sense and patience isn't my notion of management."
The remonstrance was too reasonable to be disregarded.
Challenger tossed his head and shrugged his heavy shoulders.