"In the face of photographs?"
"In the face of specimens?"
"Ah, there we may have them!
Malone and his filthy Fleet Street crew may be all yelping our praises yet.
August the twenty-eighth—the day we saw five live iguanodons in a glade of Maple White Land.
Put it down in your diary, my young friend, and send it to your rag."
"And be ready to get the toe-end of the editorial boot in return," said Lord John.
"Things look a bit different from the latitude of London, young fellah my lad.
There's many a man who never tells his adventures, for he can't hope to be believed.
Who's to blame them?
For this will seem a bit of a dream to ourselves in a month or two. WHAT did you say they were?"
"Iguanodons," said Summerlee.
"You'll find their footmarks all over the Hastings sands, in Kent, and in Sussex.
The South of England was alive with them when there was plenty of good lush green-stuff to keep them going.
Conditions have changed, and the beasts died.
Here it seems that the conditions have not changed, and the beasts have lived."
"If ever we get out of this alive, I must have a head with me," said Lord John.
"Lord, how some of that Somaliland-Uganda crowd would turn a beautiful pea-green if they saw it!
I don't know what you chaps think, but it strikes me that we are on mighty thin ice all this time."
I had the same feeling of mystery and danger around us.
In the gloom of the trees there seemed a constant menace and as we looked up into their shadowy foliage vague terrors crept into one's heart.
It is true that these monstrous creatures which we had seen were lumbering, inoffensive brutes which were unlikely to hurt anyone, but in this world of wonders what other survivals might there not be—what fierce, active horrors ready to pounce upon us from their lair among the rocks or brushwood?
I knew little of prehistoric life, but I had a clear remembrance of one book which I had read in which it spoke of creatures who would live upon our lions and tigers as a cat lives upon mice.
What if these also were to be found in the woods of Maple White Land!
It was destined that on this very morning—our first in the new country—we were to find out what strange hazards lay around us.
It was a loathsome adventure, and one of which I hate to think.
If, as Lord John said, the glade of the iguanodons will remain with us as a dream, then surely the swamp of the pterodactyls will forever be our nightmare.
Let me set down exactly what occurred.
We passed very slowly through the woods, partly because Lord Roxton acted as scout before he would let us advance, and partly because at every second step one or other of our professors would fall, with a cry of wonder, before some flower or insect which presented him with a new type.
We may have traveled two or three miles in all, keeping to the right of the line of the stream, when we came upon a considerable opening in the trees.
A belt of brushwood led up to a tangle of rocks—the whole plateau was strewn with boulders.
We were walking slowly towards these rocks, among bushes which reached over our waists, when we became aware of a strange low gabbling and whistling sound, which filled the air with a constant clamor and appeared to come from some spot immediately before us.
Lord John held up his hand as a signal for us to stop, and he made his way swiftly, stooping and running, to the line of rocks.
We saw him peep over them and give a gesture of amazement. Then he stood staring as if forgetting us, so utterly entranced was he by what he saw.
Finally he waved us to come on, holding up his hand as a signal for caution.
His whole bearing made me feel that something wonderful but dangerous lay before us.
Creeping to his side, we looked over the rocks.
The place into which we gazed was a pit, and may, in the early days, have been one of the smaller volcanic blow-holes of the plateau.
It was bowl-shaped and at the bottom, some hundreds of yards from where we lay, were pools of green-scummed, stagnant water, fringed with bullrushes.
It was a weird place in itself, but its occupants made it seem like a scene from the Seven Circles of Dante.
The place was a rookery of pterodactyls. There were hundreds of them congregated within view.
All the bottom area round the water-edge was alive with their young ones, and with hideous mothers brooding upon their leathery, yellowish eggs.
From this crawling flapping mass of obscene reptilian life came the shocking clamor which filled the air and the mephitic, horrible, musty odor which turned us sick.
But above, perched each upon its own stone, tall, gray, and withered, more like dead and dried specimens than actual living creatures, sat the horrible males, absolutely motionless save for the rolling of their red eyes or an occasional snap of their rat-trap beaks as a dragon-fly went past them.
Their huge, membranous wings were closed by folding their fore-arms, so that they sat like gigantic old women, wrapped in hideous web-colored shawls, and with their ferocious heads protruding above them.
Large and small, not less than a thousand of these filthy creatures lay in the hollow before us.
Our professors would gladly have stayed there all day, so entranced were they by this opportunity of studying the life of a prehistoric age.
They pointed out the fish and dead birds lying about among the rocks as proving the nature of the food of these creatures, and I heard them congratulating each other on having cleared up the point why the bones of this flying dragon are found in such great numbers in certain well-defined areas, as in the Cambridge Green-sand, since it was now seen that, like penguins, they lived in gregarious fashion.