At last we exposed that monstrous torso (fifty-four inches, by the tailor's tape). His body was all matted with black hair, out of which jungle we picked the wandering tick before it had bitten him.
But the bushes round were full of the horrible pests, and it was clear that we must shift our camp.
But first of all it was necessary to make our arrangements with the faithful negro, who appeared presently on the pinnacle with a number of tins of cocoa and biscuits, which he tossed over to us.
Of the stores which remained below he was ordered to retain as much as would keep him for two months. The Indians were to have the remainder as a reward for their services and as payment for taking our letters back to the Amazon.
Some hours later we saw them in single file far out upon the plain, each with a bundle on his head, making their way back along the path we had come.
Zambo occupied our little tent at the base of the pinnacle, and there he remained, our one link with the world below.
And now we had to decide upon our immediate movements.
We shifted our position from among the tick-laden bushes until we came to a small clearing thickly surrounded by trees upon all sides.
There were some flat slabs of rock in the center, with an excellent well close by, and there we sat in cleanly comfort while we made our first plans for the invasion of this new country.
Birds were calling among the foliage—especially one with a peculiar whooping cry which was new to us—but beyond these sounds there were no signs of life.
Our first care was to make some sort of list of our own stores, so that we might know what we had to rely upon.
What with the things we had ourselves brought up and those which Zambo had sent across on the rope, we were fairly well supplied.
Most important of all, in view of the dangers which might surround us, we had our four rifles and one thousand three hundred rounds, also a shot-gun, but not more than a hundred and fifty medium pellet cartridges.
In the matter of provisions we had enough to last for several weeks, with a sufficiency of tobacco and a few scientific implements, including a large telescope and a good field-glass.
All these things we collected together in the clearing, and as a first precaution, we cut down with our hatchet and knives a number of thorny bushes, which we piled round in a circle some fifteen yards in diameter.
This was to be our headquarters for the time—our place of refuge against sudden danger and the guard-house for our stores.
Fort Challenger, we called it.
It was midday before we had made ourselves secure, but the heat was not oppressive, and the general character of the plateau, both in its temperature and in its vegetation, was almost temperate.
The beech, the oak, and even the birch were to be found among the tangle of trees which girt us in.
One huge gingko tree, topping all the others, shot its great limbs and maidenhair foliage over the fort which we had constructed.
In its shade we continued our discussion, while Lord John, who had quickly taken command in the hour of action, gave us his views.
"So long as neither man nor beast has seen or heard us, we are safe," said he.
"From the time they know we are here our troubles begin.
There are no signs that they have found us out as yet.
So our game surely is to lie low for a time and spy out the land.
We want to have a good look at our neighbors before we get on visitin' terms."
"But we must advance," I ventured to remark.
"By all means, sonny my boy!
We will advance. But with common sense.
We must never go so far that we can't get back to our base.
Above all, we must never, unless it is life or death, fire off our guns."
"But YOU fired yesterday," said Summerlee.
"Well, it couldn't be helped.
However, the wind was strong and blew outwards. It is not likely that the sound could have traveled far into the plateau.
By the way, what shall we call this place?
I suppose it is up to us to give it a name?"
There were several suggestions, more or less happy, but Challenger's was final.
"It can only have one name," said he.
"It is called after the pioneer who discovered it. It is Maple White Land."
Maple White Land it became, and so it is named in that chart which has become my special task. So it will, I trust, appear in the atlas of the future.
The peaceful penetration of Maple White Land was the pressing subject before us.
We had the evidence of our own eyes that the place was inhabited by some unknown creatures, and there was that of Maple White's sketch-book to show that more dreadful and more dangerous monsters might still appear.
That there might also prove to be human occupants and that they were of a malevolent character was suggested by the skeleton impaled upon the bamboos, which could not have got there had it not been dropped from above.
Our situation, stranded without possibility of escape in such a land, was clearly full of danger, and our reasons endorsed every measure of caution which Lord John's experience could suggest.
Yet it was surely impossible that we should halt on the edge of this world of mystery when our very souls were tingling with impatience to push forward and to pluck the heart from it.
We therefore blocked the entrance to our zareba by filling it up with several thorny bushes, and left our camp with the stores entirely surrounded by this protecting hedge. We then slowly and cautiously set forth into the unknown, following the course of the little stream which flowed from our spring, as it should always serve us as a guide on our return.
Hardly had we started when we came across signs that there were indeed wonders awaiting us.
After a few hundred yards of thick forest, containing many trees which were quite unknown to me, but which Summerlee, who was the botanist of the party, recognized as forms of conifera and of cycadaceous plants which have long passed away in the world below, we entered a region where the stream widened out and formed a considerable bog.
High reeds of a peculiar type grew thickly before us, which were pronounced to be equisetacea, or mare's-tails, with tree-ferns scattered amongst them, all of them swaying in a brisk wind.
Suddenly Lord John, who was walking first, halted with uplifted hand.