Was this the luxurious Lord John Roxton who had sat that evening in the Albany amidst his Persian rugs and his pictures in the pink radiance of the tinted lights?
And was this the imposing Professor who had swelled behind the great desk in his massive study at Enmore Park?
And, finally, could this be the austere and prim figure which had risen before the meeting at the Zoological Institute?
No three tramps that one could have met in a Surrey lane could have looked more hopeless and bedraggled.
We had, it is true, been only a week or so upon the top of the plateau, but all our spare clothing was in our camp below, and the one week had been a severe one upon us all, though least to me who had not to endure the handling of the ape-men.
My three friends had all lost their hats, and had now bound handkerchiefs round their heads, their clothes hung in ribbons about them, and their unshaven grimy faces were hardly to be recognized.
Both Summerlee and Challenger were limping heavily, while I still dragged my feet from weakness after the shock of the morning, and my neck was as stiff as a board from the murderous grip that held it.
We were indeed a sorry crew, and I did not wonder to see our Indian companions glance back at us occasionally with horror and amazement on their faces.
In the late afternoon we reached the margin of the lake, and as we emerged from the bush and saw the sheet of water stretching before us our native friends set up a shrill cry of joy and pointed eagerly in front of them.
It was indeed a wonderful sight which lay before us.
Sweeping over the glassy surface was a great flotilla of canoes coming straight for the shore upon which we stood.
They were some miles out when we first saw them, but they shot forward with great swiftness, and were soon so near that the rowers could distinguish our persons.
Instantly a thunderous shout of delight burst from them, and we saw them rise from their seats, waving their paddles and spears madly in the air.
Then bending to their work once more, they flew across the intervening water, beached their boats upon the sloping sand, and rushed up to us, prostrating themselves with loud cries of greeting before the young chief.
Finally one of them, an elderly man, with a necklace and bracelet of great lustrous glass beads and the skin of some beautiful mottled amber-colored animal slung over his shoulders, ran forward and embraced most tenderly the youth whom we had saved.
He then looked at us and asked some questions, after which he stepped up with much dignity and embraced us also each in turn.
Then, at his order, the whole tribe lay down upon the ground before us in homage.
Personally I felt shy and uncomfortable at this obsequious adoration, and I read the same feeling in the faces of Roxton and Summerlee, but Challenger expanded like a flower in the sun.
"They may be undeveloped types," said he, stroking his beard and looking round at them, "but their deportment in the presence of their superiors might be a lesson to some of our more advanced Europeans.
Strange how correct are the instincts of the natural man!"
It was clear that the natives had come out upon the war-path, for every man carried his spear—a long bamboo tipped with bone—his bow and arrows, and some sort of club or stone battle-axe slung at his side.
Their dark, angry glances at the woods from which we had come, and the frequent repetition of the word "Doda," made it clear enough that this was a rescue party who had set forth to save or revenge the old chief's son, for such we gathered that the youth must be.
A council was now held by the whole tribe squatting in a circle, whilst we sat near on a slab of basalt and watched their proceedings.
Two or three warriors spoke, and finally our young friend made a spirited harangue with such eloquent features and gestures that we could understand it all as clearly as if we had known his language.
"What is the use of returning?" he said.
"Sooner or later the thing must be done.
Your comrades have been murdered.
What if I have returned safe? These others have been done to death.
There is no safety for any of us.
We are assembled now and ready."
Then he pointed to us.
"These strange men are our friends.
They are great fighters, and they hate the ape-men even as we do.
They command," here he pointed up to heaven, "the thunder and the lightning.
When shall we have such a chance again?
Let us go forward, and either die now or live for the future in safety.
How else shall we go back unashamed to our women?"
The little red warriors hung upon the words of the speaker, and when he had finished they burst into a roar of applause, waving their rude weapons in the air.
The old chief stepped forward to us, and asked us some questions, pointing at the same time to the woods.
Lord John made a sign to him that he should wait for an answer and then he turned to us.
"Well, it's up to you to say what you will do," said he; "for my part I have a score to settle with these monkey-folk, and if it ends by wiping them off the face of the earth I don't see that the earth need fret about it.
I'm goin' with our little red pals and I mean to see them through the scrap.
What do you say, young fellah?"
"Of course I will come."
"And you, Challenger?"
"I will assuredly co-operate."
"And you, Summerlee?"
"We seem to be drifting very far from the object of this expedition, Lord John.
I assure you that I little thought when I left my professional chair in London that it was for the purpose of heading a raid of savages upon a colony of anthropoid apes."
"To such base uses do we come," said Lord John, smiling.