But the matter was more deadly when we came among the trees.
For an hour or more after we entered the wood, there was a desperate struggle in which for a time we hardly held our own.
Springing out from among the scrub the ape-men with huge clubs broke in upon the Indians and often felled three or four of them before they could be speared.
Their frightful blows shattered everything upon which they fell.
One of them knocked Summerlee's rifle to matchwood and the next would have crushed his skull had an Indian not stabbed the beast to the heart.
Other ape-men in the trees above us hurled down stones and logs of wood, occasionally dropping bodily on to our ranks and fighting furiously until they were felled.
Once our allies broke under the pressure, and had it not been for the execution done by our rifles they would certainly have taken to their heels.
But they were gallantly rallied by their old chief and came on with such a rush that the ape-men began in turn to give way.
Summerlee was weaponless, but I was emptying my magazine as quick as I could fire, and on the further flank we heard the continuous cracking of our companion's rifles.
Then in a moment came the panic and the collapse.
Screaming and howling, the great creatures rushed away in all directions through the brushwood, while our allies yelled in their savage delight, following swiftly after their flying enemies.
All the feuds of countless generations, all the hatreds and cruelties of their narrow history, all the memories of ill-usage and persecution were to be purged that day.
At last man was to be supreme and the man-beast to find forever his allotted place.
Fly as they would the fugitives were too slow to escape from the active savages, and from every side in the tangled woods we heard the exultant yells, the twanging of bows, and the crash and thud as ape-men were brought down from their hiding-places in the trees.
I was following the others, when I found that Lord John and Challenger had come across to join us.
"It's over," said Lord John.
"I think we can leave the tidying up to them.
Perhaps the less we see of it the better we shall sleep."
Challenger's eyes were shining with the lust of slaughter.
"We have been privileged," he cried, strutting about like a gamecock, "to be present at one of the typical decisive battles of history—the battles which have determined the fate of the world.
What, my friends, is the conquest of one nation by another?
It is meaningless.
Each produces the same result.
But those fierce fights, when in the dawn of the ages the cave-dwellers held their own against the tiger folk, or the elephants first found that they had a master, those were the real conquests—the victories that count.
By this strange turn of fate we have seen and helped to decide even such a contest. Now upon this plateau the future must ever be for man." It needed a robust faith in the end to justify such tragic means.
As we advanced together through the woods we found the ape-men lying thick, transfixed with spears or arrows.
Here and there a little group of shattered Indians marked where one of the anthropoids had turned to bay, and sold his life dearly.
Always in front of us we heard the yelling and roaring which showed the direction of the pursuit.
The ape-men had been driven back to their city, they had made a last stand there, once again they had been broken, and now we were in time to see the final fearful scene of all.
Some eighty or a hundred males, the last survivors, had been driven across that same little clearing which led to the edge of the cliff, the scene of our own exploit two days before.
As we arrived the Indians, a semicircle of spearmen, had closed in on them, and in a minute it was over, Thirty or forty died where they stood.
The others, screaming and clawing, were thrust over the precipice, and went hurtling down, as their prisoners had of old, on to the sharp bamboos six hundred feet below.
It was as Challenger had said, and the reign of man was assured forever in Maple White Land.
The males were exterminated, Ape Town was destroyed, the females and young were driven away to live in bondage, and the long rivalry of untold centuries had reached its bloody end.
For us the victory brought much advantage.
Once again we were able to visit our camp and get at our stores. Once more also we were able to communicate with Zambo, who had been terrified by the spectacle from afar of an avalanche of apes falling from the edge of the cliff.
"Come away, Massas, come away!" he cried, his eyes starting from his head.
"The debbil get you sure if you stay up there."
"It is the voice of sanity!" said Summerlee with conviction.
"We have had adventures enough and they are neither suitable to our character or our position.
I hold you to your word, Challenger.
From now onwards you devote your energies to getting us out of this horrible country and back once more to civilization."
CHAPTER XV "Our Eyes have seen Great Wonders"
I write this from day to day, but I trust that before I come to the end of it, I may be able to say that the light shines, at last, through our clouds.
We are held here with no clear means of making our escape, and bitterly we chafe against it.
Yet, I can well imagine that the day may come when we may be glad that we were kept, against our will, to see something more of the wonders of this singular place, and of the creatures who inhabit it.
The victory of the Indians and the annihilation of the ape-men, marked the turning point of our fortunes.
From then onwards, we were in truth masters of the plateau, for the natives looked upon us with a mixture of fear and gratitude, since by our strange powers we had aided them to destroy their hereditary foe.
For their own sakes they would, perhaps, be glad to see the departure of such formidable and incalculable people, but they have not themselves suggested any way by which we may reach the plains below.
There had been, so far as we could follow their signs, a tunnel by which the place could be approached, the lower exit of which we had seen from below.