"We can't afford to take chances in a country like this.
Two-hour spells in the future, for each of us."
"Then I'll just finish my pipe in starting the first one," said Professor Summerlee; and from that time onwards we never trusted ourselves again without a watchman.
In the morning it was not long before we discovered the source of the hideous uproar which had aroused us in the night.
The iguanodon glade was the scene of a horrible butchery.
From the pools of blood and the enormous lumps of flesh scattered in every direction over the green sward we imagined at first that a number of animals had been killed, but on examining the remains more closely we discovered that all this carnage came from one of these unwieldy monsters, which had been literally torn to pieces by some creature not larger, perhaps, but far more ferocious, than itself.
Our two professors sat in absorbed argument, examining piece after piece, which showed the marks of savage teeth and of enormous claws.
"Our judgment must still be in abeyance," said Professor Challenger, with a huge slab of whitish-colored flesh across his knee.
"The indications would be consistent with the presence of a saber-toothed tiger, such as are still found among the breccia of our caverns; but the creature actually seen was undoubtedly of a larger and more reptilian character.
Personally, I should pronounce for allosaurus."
"Or megalosaurus," said Summerlee.
Any one of the larger carnivorous dinosaurs would meet the case.
Among them are to be found all the most terrible types of animal life that have ever cursed the earth or blessed a museum."
He laughed sonorously at his own conceit, for, though he had little sense of humor, the crudest pleasantry from his own lips moved him always to roars of appreciation.
"The less noise the better," said Lord Roxton, curtly.
"We don't know who or what may be near us.
If this fellah comes back for his breakfast and catches us here we won't have so much to laugh at.
By the way, what is this mark upon the iguanodon's hide?"
On the dull, scaly, slate-colored skin somewhere above the shoulder, there was a singular black circle of some substance which looked like asphalt.
None of us could suggest what it meant, though Summerlee was of opinion that he had seen something similar upon one of the young ones two days before.
Challenger said nothing, but looked pompous and puffy, as if he could if he would, so that finally Lord John asked his opinion direct.
"If your lordship will graciously permit me to open my mouth, I shall be happy to express my sentiments," said he, with elaborate sarcasm.
"I am not in the habit of being taken to task in the fashion which seems to be customary with your lordship.
I was not aware that it was necessary to ask your permission before smiling at a harmless pleasantry."
It was not until he had received his apology that our touchy friend would suffer himself to be appeased.
When at last his ruffled feelings were at ease, he addressed us at some length from his seat upon a fallen tree, speaking, as his habit was, as if he were imparting most precious information to a class of a thousand.
"With regard to the marking," said he, "I am inclined to agree with my friend and colleague, Professor Summerlee, that the stains are from asphalt.
As this plateau is, in its very nature, highly volcanic, and as asphalt is a substance which one associates with Plutonic forces, I cannot doubt that it exists in the free liquid state, and that the creatures may have come in contact with it.
A much more important problem is the question as to the existence of the carnivorous monster which has left its traces in this glade.
We know roughly that this plateau is not larger than an average English county.
Within this confined space a certain number of creatures, mostly types which have passed away in the world below, have lived together for innumerable years.
Now, it is very clear to me that in so long a period one would have expected that the carnivorous creatures, multiplying unchecked, would have exhausted their food supply and have been compelled to either modify their flesh-eating habits or die of hunger.
This we see has not been so.
We can only imagine, therefore, that the balance of Nature is preserved by some check which limits the numbers of these ferocious creatures.
One of the many interesting problems, therefore, which await our solution is to discover what that check may be and how it operates.
I venture to trust that we may have some future opportunity for the closer study of the carnivorous dinosaurs."
"And I venture to trust we may not," I observed.
The Professor only raised his great eyebrows, as the schoolmaster meets the irrelevant observation of the naughty boy.
"Perhaps Professor Summerlee may have an observation to make," he said, and the two savants ascended together into some rarefied scientific atmosphere, where the possibilities of a modification of the birth-rate were weighed against the decline of the food supply as a check in the struggle for existence.
That morning we mapped out a small portion of the plateau, avoiding the swamp of the pterodactyls, and keeping to the east of our brook instead of to the west.
In that direction the country was still thickly wooded, with so much undergrowth that our progress was very slow.
I have dwelt up to now upon the terrors of Maple White Land; but there was another side to the subject, for all that morning we wandered among lovely flowers—mostly, as I observed, white or yellow in color, these being, as our professors explained, the primitive flower-shades.
In many places the ground was absolutely covered with them, and as we walked ankle-deep on that wonderful yielding carpet, the scent was almost intoxicating in its sweetness and intensity.
The homely English bee buzzed everywhere around us.
Many of the trees under which we passed had their branches bowed down with fruit, some of which were of familiar sorts, while other varieties were new.
By observing which of them were pecked by the birds we avoided all danger of poison and added a delicious variety to our food reserve.
In the jungle which we traversed were numerous hard-trodden paths made by the wild beasts, and in the more marshy places we saw a profusion of strange footmarks, including many of the iguanodon.
Once in a grove we observed several of these great creatures grazing, and Lord John, with his glass, was able to report that they also were spotted with asphalt, though in a different place to the one which we had examined in the morning.
What this phenomenon meant we could not imagine.