It was a fact that our Indians had shown in many ways of late that they were weary of their journey and anxious to return.
We realized that Zambo spoke the truth, and that it would be impossible for him to keep them.
"Make them wait till to-morrow, Zambo," I shouted; "then I can send letter back by them."
"Very good, sarr!
I promise they wait till to-morrow," said the negro.
"But what I do for you now?"
There was plenty for him to do, and admirably the faithful fellow did it.
First of all, under our directions, he undid the rope from the tree-stump and threw one end of it across to us.
It was not thicker than a clothes-line, but it was of great strength, and though we could not make a bridge of it, we might well find it invaluable if we had any climbing to do.
He then fastened his end of the rope to the package of supplies which had been carried up, and we were able to drag it across.
This gave us the means of life for at least a week, even if we found nothing else.
Finally he descended and carried up two other packets of mixed goods—a box of ammunition and a number of other things, all of which we got across by throwing our rope to him and hauling it back.
It was evening when he at last climbed down, with a final assurance that he would keep the Indians till next morning.
And so it is that I have spent nearly the whole of this our first night upon the plateau writing up our experiences by the light of a single candle-lantern.
We supped and camped at the very edge of the cliff, quenching our thirst with two bottles of Apollinaris which were in one of the cases.
It is vital to us to find water, but I think even Lord John himself had had adventures enough for one day, and none of us felt inclined to make the first push into the unknown.
We forbore to light a fire or to make any unnecessary sound.
To-morrow (or to-day, rather, for it is already dawn as I write) we shall make our first venture into this strange land.
When I shall be able to write again—or if I ever shall write again—I know not.
Meanwhile, I can see that the Indians are still in their place, and I am sure that the faithful Zambo will be here presently to get my letter.
I only trust that it will come to hand.
P.S.—The more I think the more desperate does our position seem.
I see no possible hope of our return.
If there were a high tree near the edge of the plateau we might drop a return bridge across, but there is none within fifty yards. Our united strength could not carry a trunk which would serve our purpose.
The rope, of course, is far too short that we could descend by it.
No, our position is hopeless—hopeless!
CHAPTER X "The most Wonderful Things have Happened"
The most wonderful things have happened and are continually happening to us.
All the paper that I possess consists of five old note-books and a lot of scraps, and I have only the one stylographic pencil; but so long as I can move my hand I will continue to set down our experiences and impressions, for, since we are the only men of the whole human race to see such things, it is of enormous importance that I should record them whilst they are fresh in my memory and before that fate which seems to be constantly impending does actually overtake us.
Whether Zambo can at last take these letters to the river, or whether I shall myself in some miraculous way carry them back with me, or, finally, whether some daring explorer, coming upon our tracks with the advantage, perhaps, of a perfected monoplane, should find this bundle of manuscript, in any case I can see that what I am writing is destined to immortality as a classic of true adventure.
On the morning after our being trapped upon the plateau by the villainous Gomez we began a new stage in our experiences.
The first incident in it was not such as to give me a very favorable opinion of the place to which we had wandered.
As I roused myself from a short nap after day had dawned, my eyes fell upon a most singular appearance upon my own leg.
My trouser had slipped up, exposing a few inches of my skin above my sock. On this there rested a large, purplish grape.
Astonished at the sight, I leaned forward to pick it off, when, to my horror, it burst between my finger and thumb, squirting blood in every direction.
My cry of disgust had brought the two professors to my side.
"Most interesting," said Summerlee, bending over my shin.
"An enormous blood-tick, as yet, I believe, unclassified."
"The first-fruits of our labors," said Challenger in his booming, pedantic fashion.
"We cannot do less than call it Ixodes Maloni.
The very small inconvenience of being bitten, my young friend, cannot, I am sure, weigh with you as against the glorious privilege of having your name inscribed in the deathless roll of zoology.
Unhappily you have crushed this fine specimen at the moment of satiation." "Filthy vermin!" I cried.
Professor Challenger raised his great eyebrows in protest, and placed a soothing paw upon my shoulder.
"You should cultivate the scientific eye and the detached scientific mind," said he.
"To a man of philosophic temperament like myself the blood-tick, with its lancet-like proboscis and its distending stomach, is as beautiful a work of Nature as the peacock or, for that matter, the aurora borealis.
It pains me to hear you speak of it in so unappreciative a fashion.
No doubt, with due diligence, we can secure some other specimen."
"There can be no doubt of that," said Summerlee, grimly, "for one has just disappeared behind your shirt-collar."
Challenger sprang into the air bellowing like a bull, and tore frantically at his coat and shirt to get them off.
Summerlee and I laughed so that we could hardly help him.