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Lost World

10.
"For Once I Was The Hero"
Lord John Roxton was right when he thought that some specially toxic quality might lie
in the bite of the horrible creatures which had attacked us. On the morning after our first
adventure upon the plateau, both Summerlee and I were in great pain and fever, while
Challenger's knee was so bruised that he could hardly limp. We kept to our camp all day,
therefore, Lord John busying himself, with such help as we could give him, in raising the
height and thickness of the thorny walls which were our only defense. I remember that
during the whole long day I was haunted by the feeling that we were closely observed,
though by whom or whence I could give no guess.
So strong was the impression that I told Professor Challenger of it, who put it down to the
cerebral excitement caused by my fever. Again and again I glanced round swiftly, with
the conviction that I was about to see something, but only to meet the dark tangle of our
hedge or the solemn and cavernous gloom of the great trees which arched above our
heads. And yet the feeling grew ever stronger in my own mind that something observant
and something malevolent was at our very elbow. I thought of the Indian superstition of
the Curupuri--the dreadful, lurking spirit of the woods--and I could have imagined that
his terrible presence haunted those who had invaded his most remote and sacred retreat.
That night (our third in Maple White Land) we had an experience which left a fearful
impression upon our minds, and made us thankful that Lord John had worked so hard in
making our retreat impregnable. We were all sleeping round our dying fire when we were
aroused--or, rather, I should say, shot out of our slumbers--by a succession of the most
frightful cries and screams to which I have ever listened. I know no sound to which I
could compare this amazing tumult, which seemed to come from some spot within a few
hundred yards of our camp. It was as ear-splitting as any whistle of a railway-engine; but
whereas the whistle is a clear, mechanical, sharp-edged sound, this was far deeper in
volume and vibrant with the uttermost strain of agony and horror. We clapped our hands
to our ears to shut out that nerve-shaking appeal. A cold sweat broke out over my body,
and my heart turned sick at the misery of it. All the woes of tortured life, all its
stupendous indictment of high heaven, its innumerable sorrows, seemed to be centered
and condensed into that one dreadful, agonized cry. And then, under this high-pitched,
ringing sound there was another, more intermittent, a low, deep-chested laugh, a
growling, throaty gurgle of merriment which formed a grotesque accompaniment to the
shriek with which it was blended. For three or four minutes on end the fearsome duet
continued, while all the foliage rustled with the rising of startled birds. Then it shut off as
suddenly as it began. For a long time we sat in horrified silence. Then Lord John threw a
bundle of twigs upon the fire, and their red glare lit up the intent faces of my companions
and flickered over the great boughs above our heads.
"What was it?" I whispered.
"We shall know in the morning," said Lord John. "It was close to us--not farther than the
glade."
 
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