Madman that I was to linger so long before I fled!
Up to then he had hunted by scent, and his movement was slow.
But he had actually seen me as I started to run. From then onwards he had hunted by sight, for the path showed him where I had gone.
Now, as he came round the curve, he was springing in great bounds.
The moonlight shone upon his huge projecting eyes, the row of enormous teeth in his open mouth, and the gleaming fringe of claws upon his short, powerful forearms.
With a scream of terror I turned and rushed wildly down the path.
Behind me the thick, gasping breathing of the creature sounded louder and louder.
His heavy footfall was beside me.
Every instant I expected to feel his grip upon my back.
And then suddenly there came a crash—I was falling through space, and everything beyond was darkness and rest.
As I emerged from my unconsciousness—which could not, I think, have lasted more than a few minutes—I was aware of a most dreadful and penetrating smell.
Putting out my hand in the darkness I came upon something which felt like a huge lump of meat, while my other hand closed upon a large bone.
Up above me there was a circle of starlit sky, which showed me that I was lying at the bottom of a deep pit.
Slowly I staggered to my feet and felt myself all over.
I was stiff and sore from head to foot, but there was no limb which would not move, no joint which would not bend.
As the circumstances of my fall came back into my confused brain, I looked up in terror, expecting to see that dreadful head silhouetted against the paling sky.
There was no sign of the monster, however, nor could I hear any sound from above.
I began to walk slowly round, therefore, feeling in every direction to find out what this strange place could be into which I had been so opportunely precipitated.
It was, as I have said, a pit, with sharply-sloping walls and a level bottom about twenty feet across.
This bottom was littered with great gobbets of flesh, most of which was in the last state of putridity. The atmosphere was poisonous and horrible.
After tripping and stumbling over these lumps of decay, I came suddenly against something hard, and I found that an upright post was firmly fixed in the center of the hollow.
It was so high that I could not reach the top of it with my hand, and it appeared to be covered with grease.
Suddenly I remembered that I had a tin box of wax-vestas in my pocket. Striking one of them, I was able at last to form some opinion of this place into which I had fallen.
There could be no question as to its nature. It was a trap—made by the hand of man.
The post in the center, some nine feet long, was sharpened at the upper end, and was black with the stale blood of the creatures who had been impaled upon it.
The remains scattered about were fragments of the victims, which had been cut away in order to clear the stake for the next who might blunder in.
I remembered that Challenger had declared that man could not exist upon the plateau, since with his feeble weapons he could not hold his own against the monsters who roamed over it.
But now it was clear enough how it could be done.
In their narrow-mouthed caves the natives, whoever they might be, had refuges into which the huge saurians could not penetrate, while with their developed brains they were capable of setting such traps, covered with branches, across the paths which marked the run of the animals as would destroy them in spite of all their strength and activity.
Man was always the master.
The sloping wall of the pit was not difficult for an active man to climb, but I hesitated long before I trusted myself within reach of the dreadful creature which had so nearly destroyed me.
How did I know that he was not lurking in the nearest clump of bushes, waiting for my reappearance?
I took heart, however, as I recalled a conversation between Challenger and Summerlee upon the habits of the great saurians.
Both were agreed that the monsters were practically brainless, that there was no room for reason in their tiny cranial cavities, and that if they have disappeared from the rest of the world it was assuredly on account of their own stupidity, which made it impossible for them to adapt themselves to changing conditions.
To lie in wait for me now would mean that the creature had appreciated what had happened to me, and this in turn would argue some power connecting cause and effect.
Surely it was more likely that a brainless creature, acting solely by vague predatory instinct, would give up the chase when I disappeared, and, after a pause of astonishment, would wander away in search of some other prey?
I clambered to the edge of the pit and looked over.
The stars were fading, the sky was whitening, and the cold wind of morning blew pleasantly upon my face.
I could see or hear nothing of my enemy.
Slowly I climbed out and sat for a while upon the ground, ready to spring back into my refuge if any danger should appear.
Then, reassured by the absolute stillness and by the growing light, I took my courage in both hands and stole back along the path which I had come.
Some distance down it I picked up my gun, and shortly afterwards struck the brook which was my guide. So, with many a frightened backward glance, I made for home.
And suddenly there came something to remind me of my absent companions.
In the clear, still morning air there sounded far away the sharp, hard note of a single rifle-shot.
I paused and listened, but there was nothing more.
For a moment I was shocked at the thought that some sudden danger might have befallen them.
But then a simpler and more natural explanation came to my mind.
It was now broad daylight.
No doubt my absence had been noticed.
They had imagined, that I was lost in the woods, and had fired this shot to guide me home.