"Look at this!" said he.
"By George, this must be the trail of the father of all birds!"
An enormous three-toed track was imprinted in the soft mud before us.
The creature, whatever it was, had crossed the swamp and had passed on into the forest.
We all stopped to examine that monstrous spoor.
If it were indeed a bird—and what animal could leave such a mark?—its foot was so much larger than an ostrich's that its height upon the same scale must be enormous.
Lord John looked eagerly round him and slipped two cartridges into his elephant-gun.
"I'll stake my good name as a shikarree," said he, "that the track is a fresh one.
The creature has not passed ten minutes.
Look how the water is still oozing into that deeper print!
See, here is the mark of a little one!"
Sure enough, smaller tracks of the same general form were running parallel to the large ones.
"But what do you make of this?" cried Professor Summerlee, triumphantly, pointing to what looked like the huge print of a five-fingered human hand appearing among the three-toed marks.
"Wealden!" cried Challenger, in an ecstasy.
"I've seen them in the Wealden clay.
It is a creature walking erect upon three-toed feet, and occasionally putting one of its five-fingered forepaws upon the ground.
Not a bird, my dear Roxton—not a bird."
"No; a reptile—a dinosaur.
Nothing else could have left such a track.
They puzzled a worthy Sussex doctor some ninety years ago; but who in the world could have hoped—hoped—to have seen a sight like that?"
His words died away into a whisper, and we all stood in motionless amazement.
Following the tracks, we had left the morass and passed through a screen of brushwood and trees.
Beyond was an open glade, and in this were five of the most extraordinary creatures that I have ever seen.
Crouching down among the bushes, we observed them at our leisure.
There were, as I say, five of them, two being adults and three young ones.
In size they were enormous.
Even the babies were as big as elephants, while the two large ones were far beyond all creatures I have ever seen.
They had slate-colored skin, which was scaled like a lizard's and shimmered where the sun shone upon it.
All five were sitting up, balancing themselves upon their broad, powerful tails and their huge three-toed hind-feet, while with their small five-fingered front-feet they pulled down the branches upon which they browsed.
I do not know that I can bring their appearance home to you better than by saying that they looked like monstrous kangaroos, twenty feet in length, and with skins like black crocodiles.
I do not know how long we stayed motionless gazing at this marvelous spectacle.
A strong wind blew towards us and we were well concealed, so there was no chance of discovery.
From time to time the little ones played round their parents in unwieldy gambols, the great beasts bounding into the air and falling with dull thuds upon the earth.
The strength of the parents seemed to be limitless, for one of them, having some difficulty in reaching a bunch of foliage which grew upon a considerable-sized tree, put his fore-legs round the trunk and tore it down as if it had been a sapling.
The action seemed, as I thought, to show not only the great development of its muscles, but also the small one of its brain, for the whole weight came crashing down upon the top of it, and it uttered a series of shrill yelps to show that, big as it was, there was a limit to what it could endure.
The incident made it think, apparently, that the neighborhood was dangerous, for it slowly lurched off through the wood, followed by its mate and its three enormous infants.
We saw the shimmering slaty gleam of their skins between the tree-trunks, and their heads undulating high above the brush-wood.
Then they vanished from our sight.
I looked at my comrades.
Lord John was standing at gaze with his finger on the trigger of his elephant-gun, his eager hunter's soul shining from his fierce eyes.
What would he not give for one such head to place between the two crossed oars above the mantelpiece in his snuggery at the Albany!
And yet his reason held him in, for all our exploration of the wonders of this unknown land depended upon our presence being concealed from its inhabitants.
The two professors were in silent ecstasy.
In their excitement they had unconsciously seized each other by the hand, and stood like two little children in the presence of a marvel, Challenger's cheeks bunched up into a seraphic smile, and Summerlee's sardonic face softening for the moment into wonder and reverence.
"Nunc dimittis!" he cried at last.
"What will they say in England of this?"
"My dear Summerlee, I will tell you with great confidence exactly what they will say in England," said Challenger.
"They will say that you are an infernal liar and a scientific charlatan, exactly as you and others said of me."