It is true that we had made a strict resolution against firing, but if it seemed to them that I might be in danger they would not hesitate.
It was for me now to hurry on as fast as possible, and so to reassure them.
I was weary and spent, so my progress was not so fast as I wished; but at last I came into regions which I knew.
There was the swamp of the pterodactyls upon my left; there in front of me was the glade of the iguanodons.
Now I was in the last belt of trees which separated me from Fort Challenger.
I raised my voice in a cheery shout to allay their fears.
No answering greeting came back to me.
My heart sank at that ominous stillness.
I quickened my pace into a run.
The zareba rose before me, even as I had left it, but the gate was open.
I rushed in.
In the cold, morning light it was a fearful sight which met my eyes.
Our effects were scattered in wild confusion over the ground; my comrades had disappeared, and close to the smouldering ashes of our fire the grass was stained crimson with a hideous pool of blood.
I was so stunned by this sudden shock that for a time I must have nearly lost my reason.
I have a vague recollection, as one remembers a bad dream, of rushing about through the woods all round the empty camp, calling wildly for my companions.
No answer came back from the silent shadows.
The horrible thought that I might never see them again, that I might find myself abandoned all alone in that dreadful place, with no possible way of descending into the world below, that I might live and die in that nightmare country, drove me to desperation.
I could have torn my hair and beaten my head in my despair.
Only now did I realize how I had learned to lean upon my companions, upon the serene self-confidence of Challenger, and upon the masterful, humorous coolness of Lord John Roxton.
Without them I was like a child in the dark, helpless and powerless.
I did not know which way to turn or what I should do first.
After a period, during which I sat in bewilderment, I set myself to try and discover what sudden misfortune could have befallen my companions.
The whole disordered appearance of the camp showed that there had been some sort of attack, and the rifle-shot no doubt marked the time when it had occurred.
That there should have been only one shot showed that it had been all over in an instant.
The rifles still lay upon the ground, and one of them—Lord John's—had the empty cartridge in the breech.
The blankets of Challenger and of Summerlee beside the fire suggested that they had been asleep at the time.
The cases of ammunition and of food were scattered about in a wild litter, together with our unfortunate cameras and plate-carriers, but none of them were missing. On the other hand, all the exposed provisions—and I remembered that there were a considerable quantity of them—were gone.
They were animals, then, and not natives, who had made the inroad, for surely the latter would have left nothing behind.
But if animals, or some single terrible animal, then what had become of my comrades?
A ferocious beast would surely have destroyed them and left their remains.
It is true that there was that one hideous pool of blood, which told of violence. Such a monster as had pursued me during the night could have carried away a victim as easily as a cat would a mouse.
In that case the others would have followed in pursuit.
But then they would assuredly have taken their rifles with them.
The more I tried to think it out with my confused and weary brain the less could I find any plausible explanation.
I searched round in the forest, but could see no tracks which could help me to a conclusion.
Once I lost myself, and it was only by good luck, and after an hour of wandering, that I found the camp once more.
Suddenly a thought came to me and brought some little comfort to my heart.
I was not absolutely alone in the world.
Down at the bottom of the cliff, and within call of me, was waiting the faithful Zambo.
I went to the edge of the plateau and looked over.
Sure enough, he was squatting among his blankets beside his fire in his little camp.
But, to my amazement, a second man was seated in front of him.
For an instant my heart leaped for joy, as I thought that one of my comrades had made his way safely down.
But a second glance dispelled the hope.
The rising sun shone red upon the man's skin.
He was an Indian.
I shouted loudly and waved my handkerchief.
Presently Zambo looked up, waved his hand, and turned to ascend the pinnacle.
In a short time he was standing close to me and listening with deep distress to the story which I told him.
"Devil got them for sure, Massa Malone," said he.