We saw many small animals, such as porcupines, a scaly ant-eater, and a wild pig, piebald in color and with long curved tusks.
Once, through a break in the trees, we saw a clear shoulder of green hill some distance away, and across this a large dun-colored animal was traveling at a considerable pace.
It passed so swiftly that we were unable to say what it was; but if it were a deer, as was claimed by Lord John, it must have been as large as those monstrous Irish elk which are still dug up from time to time in the bogs of my native land.
Ever since the mysterious visit which had been paid to our camp we always returned to it with some misgivings.
However, on this occasion we found everything in order.
That evening we had a grand discussion upon our present situation and future plans, which I must describe at some length, as it led to a new departure by which we were enabled to gain a more complete knowledge of Maple White Land than might have come in many weeks of exploring.
It was Summerlee who opened the debate.
All day he had been querulous in manner, and now some remark of Lord John's as to what we should do on the morrow brought all his bitterness to a head.
"What we ought to be doing to-day, to-morrow, and all the time," said he, "is finding some way out of the trap into which we have fallen.
You are all turning your brains towards getting into this country. I say that we should be scheming how to get out of it."
"I am surprised, sir," boomed Challenger, stroking his majestic beard, "that any man of science should commit himself to so ignoble a sentiment.
You are in a land which offers such an inducement to the ambitious naturalist as none ever has since the world began, and you suggest leaving it before we have acquired more than the most superficial knowledge of it or of its contents.
I expected better things of you, Professor Summerlee."
"You must remember," said Summerlee, sourly, "that I have a large class in London who are at present at the mercy of an extremely inefficient locum tenens.
This makes my situation different from yours, Professor Challenger, since, so far as I know, you have never been entrusted with any responsible educational work."
"Quite so," said Challenger.
"I have felt it to be a sacrilege to divert a brain which is capable of the highest original research to any lesser object.
That is why I have sternly set my face against any proffered scholastic appointment."
"For example?" asked Summerlee, with a sneer; but Lord John hastened to change the conversation.
"I must say," said he, "that I think it would be a mighty poor thing to go back to London before I know a great deal more of this place than I do at present."
"I could never dare to walk into the back office of my paper and face old McArdle," said I. (You will excuse the frankness of this report, will you not, sir?)
"He'd never forgive me for leaving such unexhausted copy behind me.
Besides, so far as I can see it is not worth discussing, since we can't get down, even if we wanted."
"Our young friend makes up for many obvious mental lacunae by some measure of primitive common sense," remarked Challenger.
"The interests of his deplorable profession are immaterial to us; but, as he observes, we cannot get down in any case, so it is a waste of energy to discuss it."
"It is a waste of energy to do anything else," growled Summerlee from behind his pipe.
"Let me remind you that we came here upon a perfectly definite mission, entrusted to us at the meeting of the Zoological Institute in London.
That mission was to test the truth of Professor Challenger's statements.
Those statements, as I am bound to admit, we are now in a position to endorse.
Our ostensible work is therefore done.
As to the detail which remains to be worked out upon this plateau, it is so enormous that only a large expedition, with a very special equipment, could hope to cope with it.
Should we attempt to do so ourselves, the only possible result must be that we shall never return with the important contribution to science which we have already gained.
Professor Challenger has devised means for getting us on to this plateau when it appeared to be inaccessible; I think that we should now call upon him to use the same ingenuity in getting us back to the world from which we came."
I confess that as Summerlee stated his view it struck me as altogether reasonable.
Even Challenger was affected by the consideration that his enemies would never stand confuted if the confirmation of his statements should never reach those who had doubted them.
"The problem of the descent is at first sight a formidable one," said he, "and yet I cannot doubt that the intellect can solve it.
I am prepared to agree with our colleague that a protracted stay in Maple White Land is at present inadvisable, and that the question of our return will soon have to be faced.
I absolutely refuse to leave, however, until we have made at least a superficial examination of this country, and are able to take back with us something in the nature of a chart."
Professor Summerlee gave a snort of impatience.
"We have spent two long days in exploration," said he, "and we are no wiser as to the actual geography of the place than when we started.
It is clear that it is all thickly wooded, and it would take months to penetrate it and to learn the relations of one part to another.
If there were some central peak it would be different, but it all slopes downwards, so far as we can see.
The farther we go the less likely it is that we will get any general view."
It was at that moment that I had my inspiration.
My eyes chanced to light upon the enormous gnarled trunk of the gingko tree which cast its huge branches over us.
Surely, if its bole exceeded that of all others, its height must do the same.
If the rim of the plateau was indeed the highest point, then why should this mighty tree not prove to be a watchtower which commanded the whole country?
Now, ever since I ran wild as a lad in Ireland I have been a bold and skilled tree-climber.
My comrades might be my masters on the rocks, but I knew that I would be supreme among those branches.
Could I only get my legs on to the lowest of the giant off-shoots, then it would be strange indeed if I could not make my way to the top.