She: The most famous of the ‘lost world’ novels. It was incredibly popular and is still one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold over a hundred million copies. ~ Graeme Shimmin
The Lost World: “The tone and techniques that Conan Doyle first refined in The Lost World have become standard narrative procedures in popular entertainment of the present day.” ~ Michael Crichton
Eureka: “One of the finer books of its kind, unfortunately very rare.” ~ Jessica Amanda Salmonson
The Knight of the Silver Star: “Excellent tale.” ~ Jessica Amanda Salmonson
The Phantom City, A Volcanic Romance: “Intelligently written.” ~ Everett Franklin Bleiler, Science-fiction, the Early Years
Let me premise with the statement that I, Arthur Louvain, at the time that this narrative opens, was the most advanced pioneer “squatter” in Central Australia. I had an inherited love of adventure, which accounts for my presence at the farthest outpost of colonial civilisation. About a year previously, in one of my periodical fits of restlessness, I penetrated some thirty miles in a northerly direction beyond Cooper’s Creek, which everybody then regarded as the Ultima Thule of the great southern continent, so far as white settlement was concerned. Here I stumbled across a splendid stretch of pastoral country, and it was not long before I had my flocks of sheep fattening and prospering on its grassy plains. I established an out-station at this remote spot and called it Tingana, that being the name of the tribe of blacks who roamed about the neighbourhood. They were somewhat aggressively inclined at first, and my shepherds for a time lived in constant apprehension of a shower of spears, but, by a judicious mixture of kindness and firmness, I soon succeeded in establishing satisfactory relations with these untutored children of nature. I took a fancy to one member of the tribe-a fine, stalwart, well-developed fellow with a singularly pleasing and intelligent cast of countenance, a perfect picture of robust aboriginal health and physique. He was apparently about 25 years of age, fully six feet three in height, with the muscles standing out on his naked figure in statuesque detail, and plainly telling of the herculean strength of the man. It was indeed an exhibition of his marvellous strength that first attracted my admiration to Uralla, for such was the name he bore. One day my men were yarding up a flock of sheep, and Uralla and about a dozen other natives of the Tingana tribe were quietly watching the proceedings. Suddenly I saw them enter into an animated discussion of some sort, which evidently had reference to the sheep, judging from their vigorous gestures in that direction. I suspected that they were meditating mischief, and my suspicion was confirmed when I saw one of them—Uralla—lightly spring into the enclosure, seize a fat sheep under each arm, and, thus heavily burdened, clear the three-rail fence at a bound. Myself and my men, naturally concluding that this was but prelude to an organised attack, instinctively felt for our fire-arms and put ourselves in a position defence. But to our astonishment as well as to our admiration, Uralla, instead of making off with the two sheep that he had so adroitly secured, simply turned round and repeated his jumping performance, depositing the sheep again in the yard without their having sustained the slightest injury in the course of the experiment. Then he rejoined his native friends, and we perceived that what at first sight looked like a hostile demonstration was simply a challenge to a trial of muscular power. Needless to say, this feat of Uralla’s made him a prime favourite with all my white men, and they were delighted when I induced him to attach himself to the station, as far as his wandering propensities would permit. They had then frequent opportunities of witnessing, not only his surpassing bodily strength, but his no less admirable skill in throwing the boomerang and rapidly climbing the loftiest trees. That singular, flat, curved, sharp-edged piece of wood called the boomerang—the unsolved enigma of the scientific world—which no living being but the Australian black knows how to fashion and to use, displayed all its peculiar qualities and effects under the masterly guidance of Uralla. When throwing it for the entertainment of spectators, he could make it perform all sorts of antics in the air—now whirling about overhead, then gracefully describing the figure eight, then suddenly shooting off in a straight line, anon circling round and round, until finally it obediently returned to the very feet of the thrower. But when business and not pleasure was the object in view, it was still more interesting to watch him boomerang at the bounding kangaroo, or the swiftly-running, long-legged emu, or the stately native companion, and never failing to bring down the animal at which he had aimed. Equally wonderful in its way was his dexterous mode of ascending the giant eucalypti, or the blue and red gum trees, as they are familiarly called. The trunks of these trees are often as smooth as a ship’s mast for a height of 100 feet, or until the first branch is reached, but Uralla would ascend them with the utmost ease, depending for his safety solely on his tomahawk of stone. With this handy implement he would cut notch after notch, each being just large enough to hold the great toe of his foot, on which the weight of his whole body rested. Thus would he ascend until he got among the branches, when he would search out the slumbering places of the toothsome opossums and, having secured a supply of these aboriginal dainties, would return to earth by the same abbreviated footholds that had assisted his ascent. Uralla was, in short, a perfect specimen of the pure Australian black, as he is seen in his native haunts, in blissful ignorance of that so-called civilisation, under whose withering influences his countrymen on the coasts first degenerated into disreputable, repulsive parasites of low public-houses, and then were gradually but completely blotted out by drink and disease.
The month or two that preceded the strange and sudden expedition, whose history I am about to correctly and systematically set forth for the first time, gave no hint or indication whatever of the stirring events that were in store for us. The ordinary routine of life on a remote squatters station was only relieved by the sociable presence of a couple of old friends, who had come up to spend a few weeks at Moondara—my homestead in the comparatively civilised country 150 miles to the south—and whom I had persuaded to accompany me on this visit to my newly-discovered oasis in the barbaric regions of Tingana. One was my dear old college friend and companion, Harry Blyth, who, having completed a brilliant medical course at the University of Sydney, commenced practice in that metropolis and worked assiduously and self-denyingly until he had established his reputation in the profession. Often had I urged him to take a good holiday and bask for a month or two in the bright and breezy life of the far interior, but it was only now, after several years of uninterrupted devotion to professional duty, that he had felt at liberty to accept the invitation. He and I were kindred spirits, both in our thirty-fifth year, and both alike in having so far succeeded in eluding Cupid’s darts and retaining our bachelor independence. I could not help noticing, with some measure of regret, how the constant cares and anxieties of a doctor’s life had made him look somewhat older than his years, but the change was only superficial, for in all other respects he was the same cheery and engaging companion of college days. His sturdy, well-knit, athletic figure, so conspicuous at all our college games, but so long fettered by close confinement in a crowded city, had already regained no small proportion of its erstwhile freedom and agility under the invigorating influences of station life. “I assure you, Arthur, I am beginning to feel ten years younger,” was his self-congratulatory remark, as we were returning one evening from an exciting kangaroo hunt, in the course of which he had brought three splendid “boomers” to grass.
My second visitor was an acquaintance of a different type—an old and ever-welcome friend of our house, a warm-hearted philosophic veteran whose colonial career as explorer, adventurer, and gold-digger covered a period of well-nigh thirty years. For the sake of old times he paid me an occasional visit, and very pleased indeed I always was to have him with me. But I could never make him stay as long as I desired. He was a sort of human rolling stone, preferring to roam about at his own sweet will. He had sojourned for varying seasons on most of the principal gold-fields—Ballarat, Bendigo, Fryer’s Creek, Dunolly, Snowy River, &c.—with different degrees of luck, now accumulating quite a respectable pile of the precious metal, and anon “barely making tucker,” the diggers’ phrase for that disagreeable scarcity of gold when hardly sufficient is procurable to pay for the necessaries of life. He was now in his fifty-third year, and fairly well off after his long tussle with Dame Fortune, or rather he could be passably well off if he would only make up his mind to retire in earnest from the strife, and not run any further risks on the gold-fields. But of this prudent disposition on his part I was by no means certain. Indeed, I could not resist the impression that the roving spirit was ineradicable in his case. I felt that, like many other old and undomesticated diggers, the report of a newly-discovered “rush” in any part of Australia would be to him as the braying of the trumpet to the war-horse—the signal to pack up and start with the least possible delay for the scene no matter how distant—of the latest golden revelation. Such was my worthy old friend, Ben Wardill, ever a welcome guest and an entertaining companion, full of reminiscence and anecdote on the subject of the early digging days. Time had turned to gray his bushy beard and straggling hair, but had not visibly affected his small, square-built, compact frame, seasoned and hardened by many a year of toil and exposure to all sorts of weathers all over the colonies. Clad in his favourite digger’s costume of red shirt, white trousers, and broad-brimmed cabbage-tree hat, Ben was quite a picturesque, attractive, and popular figure, a living memento of the bustling romantic era of the fifties.
After dinner one sultry evening, Harry, Ben, and myself were sitting on the verandah of Tingana, smoking our pipes, exchanging reminiscences of bygone days, and gazing on the western sky now all crimsoned with the fiery rays of the sinking sun. The work of the station was done for the day, and the men were amusing themselves in a quiet way in a paddock some five hundred yards off. Uralla was amongst them exhibiting his wonted skill with the boomerang. He was just in the act of sending his whirling weapon aloft once more, when he suddenly stopped short and looked fixedly for a moment towards some object in the southern sky. The men turned their eyes in the direction he had indicated, and curiosity tempted us to do the same. All that we could discern, after much straining of sight, was a small dark spot in the hazy distance. But larger and larger it grew as nearer and nearer it came, until at last we were able to assure ourselves that it was really that most beautiful and symmetrical of Australian sights—a number of black swans in full flight. On they came, seemingly wedged together into an enormous V—one guiding bird at the point and more than a hundred others in regularly increasing lines behind—until they appeared high up over our heads, still pursuing their steady, onward, noiseless course. At this stage our attention was diverted by the voices of the men, and, looking towards the paddock, we perceived that Uralla was about to attempt a more than ordinarily difficult experiment in boomerang science. Giving one sharp comprehensive glance at the V-shaped mass of moving life overhead, and measuring the distance with the almost absolute accuracy of the aboriginal man, he ran forward a few yards to acquire the necessary impetus, and then, with a rapid circling of the right arm, the boomerang sped away into space in a slanting direction, being apparently not aimed at the swans at all. Having mounted to a great height, it abruptly changed its flight and commenced to descend, again taking a slanting course, but this time making straight for the flying V. We all keenly followed the whirling piece of wood as it rapidly approached the swan-formed triangle. The birds continued to preserve their mathematical outline, and were apparently all unconscious of the danger that was nigh. Then for a moment we lost sight of the boomerang, and immediately afterwards two swans had fallen from the ranks and were fluttering with mortal wounds to the earth. A great cheer went up from the men, and we all left the verandah and went down to congratulate Uralla on his remarkable achievement. On our way I looked skywards once more and observed that the surviving swans still retained their regular outline, as if nothing whatever had occurred to disturb their flight. There was not the slightest sign of panic or confusion. The ranks were simply closed up, the places of the boomerang’s victims being immediately filled by those in the rear in the orthodox military style. When we arrived in the paddock, we found Uralla looking quite unconcerned after his brilliant exploit, while the men were holding up the bodies of the now lifeless swans and expatiating on their good qualities, for noble specimens they were of the finest bird that soars through southern skies.
“First-rate, Uralla,” said I, “you brought them down in capital style.”
“Them Mulgo good,” he remarked in the guttural tones of his race, “Mulgo” being the native name for the black swan.
“Bravo, Uralla,” cried Ben, slapping the stalwart native on the back. “I never saw anything done neater since my old friend, Bendigo Bill, floored a bushranger with a brick.”
“I say, Ben,” Harry laughingly observed, “it’s well he doesn’t understand that uncomplimentary comparison, or he might make you the next victim of his deadly boomerang.”
“Where Mulgo going, Uralla?” I asked.
“Big water up there,” Uralla replied in his broken English, pointing northwards in the direction the swans were taking.
“He means they are flying to some large lake or river further north,” said Harry.
“Big water, tumble, tumble, tumble,” Uralla added, explaining what he meant by illustrating with expressive motions of his hands the idea of a body of water falling over successive ledges of rock.
“Hallo, a waterfall,” exclaimed Harry. “How is it, Arthur, you haven’t told us before about this natural curiosity in your dominions?”
“This is the first I’ve heard of it, I assure you,” I answered.
“By George,” said Ben, “this is getting quite interesting. An unknown and unnamed cataract, an undiscovered Australian Niagara. This must be seen to. How far tumble-water away, Uralla?”
The black giant thought for a moment, and then held up his fingers.
“Only two days,” cried Ben. “What say you, brothers Arthur and Harry? Shall we seek out these falls and cover ourselves with glory and spray? I propose that we name them after the Doctor. The “Blyth Falls” sounds quite nice and appropriate, doesn’t it? And just think, Harry, what a splendid account of the discovery you can send to the Sydney Morning Herald; what a grand advertisement for you, dear boy, when you resume your practice; and what a capital way of letting your hundreds of patients know that you are enjoying yourself as much in their absence as they are in yours.”
“There’s a good deal of force in what you say,” Harry laughingly replied. “For my part, I haven’t the slightest objection to making one in such a novel adventure. What’s your opinion, Arthur?”
“Well,” said I, “our best plan perhaps is to think the matter over before coming to a decision. If you are of the same opinion this day week, you will find me ready and willing. Where we are now is the farthest out-station in Australia, the northern boundary of white settlement, and if we can extend the area of civilisation a degree or so further north, I suppose we will be doing a good action.”
“Of course we will,” quoth Ben approvingly. “Why, the thing is settled. We would never forgive ourselves if we neglected this opportunity of improving our geography. I suppose this boomerang professor will guide us to the scene, to the Blyth Falls’ of the future. Know way tumble-water, Uralla?”
“Me been there,” promptly and curtly responded the aboriginal.
“There now, Arthur,” said Ben. “There’s no excuse for putting the thing off. We’ve got the best of guides, and we’re in the best of spirits, and, if we don’t make this little excursion a big success, I’ll be mightily surprised, that’s all.”
During the next few days our conversation largely turned on the undiscovered falls, and the desire to behold them soon absorbed all other considerations. So, one fine morning, we mounted our horses in a merry mood and entered on our little exploring excursion, Uralla leading the way on foot, Ben following on a vivacious animal, Harry and I riding side by side, and two of the station hands bringing up the rear in charge of the packhorses and the stores. A couple of hours brought us to the northern boundary of Tingana, which we crossed with a jocular goodbye to civilised Australia from the sprightly Ben. Shortly afterwards we entered on a low sandy waste, probably the bed of an extensive lake in some distant age, over which our horses laboriously struggled, emerging late in the afternoon on a welcome tract of forest land. A conical hill some fifteen miles to the north-west was evidently the landmark which Uralla had fixed as the goal of our first day’s journey. We reached it a little before sunset and encamped at its base, close to a well-filled water-hole which had evidently been recently visited by some natives, for the branches employed in the construction of their frail huts or “gunyahs” were all strewn about. So far we had only seen one native. He had a fantastic head-dress of feathers, and was painted from head to foot with red ochre. When he first beheld us, he stood for some moments transfixed with astonishment, and trembling in every limb, believing no doubt that man and horse formed one terrible animal. When he recovered from his natural surprise, he gave a tremendous yell and dashed into the forest, where he must have told his tribe of the wonderful creatures he had beheld. They evidently kept us in view for some time whilst remaining concealed from our eyes, for at night we could see the reflections of several signal fires in the surrounding country. But we were not in the least apprehensive of attack and were not disturbed during the night, but, as we were about to start next morning, a considerable number of the natives, armed with spears, shields, and boomerangs, emerged from various points of the forest and gathered together about a quarter of a mile from our camp. We sent Uralla to hold an interview with them on our behalf, and, although the languages of no two native tribes are alike, there is a general approximation in the vocabularies that enables strange blacks to comprehend each other’s meaning. Thus, Uralla had little difficulty in calming the fears of his black brethren of the forest and making them understand that we meant them no harm, that we wanted to be their friends, and that we were only travelling peaceably through their country. A ten minutes’ colloquy between our ambassador and the principal chiefs sufficed to convince them that there was no occasion for alarm, and Uralla then beckoned us to approach. As we did so, the women and children were apparently seized with sudden fright and scampered away towards the forest. The general body of the natives, a fine array of natural warriors, retired a little distance in good order, leaving the leading chiefs in the foreground to await our approach. We brought some blankets, knives, and sugar with us as peace-offerings, and, after these had been distributed, it was most interesting to watch their childish manifestations of delight. Their former timidity had now almost entirely disappeared; even the women and children had regained their composure and were surveying us from a distance of a hundred yards or so. Uralla acted as the interpreter of our good wishes for about a quarter of an hour, and then we prepared to resume our journey.
As tokens of friendship and good-will an old gray-headed chief, the patriarch of the tribe, came forward and gravely handed to Ben (the oldest chief on our side) a very handsome cloak made of opossum skins sewn together with the sinews of kangaroos; to Harry a nicely-carved and polished boomerang; and to myself a stone tomahawk similar to those I had seen in use amongst the Tingana tribe. Thus we parted the best of friends.
Our second day’s journey lay for the most part through open grassy plains, watered by numerous creeks or lagoons, fringed with the familiar box-tree. Twice we came upon natives spearing fish from their bark canoes, but in both cases they exhibited the usual terror at our unexpected appearance and paddled themselves out of sight with astonishing swiftness. In the middle of the afternoon the character of the country commenced to change, and Uralla gave us to understand that we were nearing the locality of the “tumble-water.”
We were now in a hilly region, with water-courses ever in sight, and an immense variety of bird life keeping us company. On our gaining the summit of the loftiest ridge we had yet ascended, Uralla paused in a listening attitude. His sensitive ear had caught the echo of the yet-distant falls. We listened also, but our duller hearing faculties could detect no sound of dashing waters. Not until twenty minutes afterwards did we catch the first direct intimation of their proximity. What was a slight rumble at first gradually swelled into a loud prolonged roar, until at last we stood victors on the final range and looked down on a verdant valley, into which descended by a series of rocky stages a spacious and foaming stream. The few waterfalls hitherto known in Australia were poor spectacles in comparison with the cataract on which we were now gazing in rapture and with no small degree of the pride that is pardonable in first discoverers. From our elevated standpoint it seemed to be a descent of more than five hundred feet from where the waters made their first leap to the great pool below, in which multitudes of birds—black swans, pelicans, ducks, bitterns, and cormorants—were disporting.
“Magnificent,” was the exclamation of old Ben. “I say, Harry, you are a lucky man to have this colonial Niagara called after you.”
“Don’t congratulate me too soon,” said Harry; “the place isn’t christened yet.”
“But it will be presently,” rejoined Ben; “the honour of baptising it is mine, for I was the promoter of this little expedition. Hadn’t I to prod you into action, Arthur, although I must say it is the first time I found you a little lukewarm when an adventure was proposed.”
“Well, Ben, I must confess to a little apathy in the first instance,” said I; “and, as a reward for your enthusiasm, I propose we name the falls after yourself. I’m sure Harry has no particular wish to be immortalised.”
“That I haven’t,” remarked Harry, “and Ben is certainly entitled to the honour.”
“He may be entitled to it but he’s not going to claim it,” said Ben. “I said at first I would call them the ‘Blyth Falls,’ and that’s how I mean them to appear upon the map. So come along, Uralla, and let us get a nearer view of them.”
We descended into the valley, congratulating ourselves on being instrumental in adding another great fact to the limited store of knowledge concerning the Australian interior, and wondering to what this notable discovery might lead. Soon we were walking along the bank of the rushing river towards the agitated pool at the foot of the falls. We saw that there were three rocky ledges down which the river was precipitated, the first and greatest jump of the waters being about one hundred and fifty feet. The contrast between the wide unbroken sheet of water as it descended, and the violent perturbations of its later stages, was striking in the extreme. The deafening noise, the clouds of spray, and the indiscriminate circling of scores of birds all around us, made our situation so near the falls somewhat unpleasant, so, having satiated our curiosity and named the place after our friend Harry with the customary ceremonies, we retired and pitched our camp at a pretty bend in the river about a mile below the scene of watery turmoil.
Lulled to sleep by the ceaseless sound of the falling waters, we awoke next morning bright and refreshed, and eager to pursue our investigations into the interesting neighbourhood we had discovered. It was whilst we were preparing breakfast and gaily chatting around the fire that the strange incident occurred which completely upset our arrangements and was destined to have extraordinary consequences for us all. Ben was in the middle of one of his anecdotes of gold-digging life, when Uralla uttered an exclamation of wonder and threw himself into a posture of careful attention. We listened likewise, and, mingling with the subdued cry of the cataract, there was borne to our ears a continued plaintive wail as from some human being in distress. Uralla’s face assumed a troubled expression, and he looked anxiously towards a clump of trees on the opposite or northern side of the river, from which the sounds of woe apparently proceeded.
“What is it, Uralla?” I asked. Uralla shook his head as if puzzled, and then proceeded to solve the mystery for himself by plunging into the river, swimming rapidly across, and making straight for the place from which the cry of distress was coming. We walked some distance along the bank in the hope of finding a practicable crossing-place, and fortunately succeeded in discovering a number of exposed rocks in the bed of the stream that served us as natural stepping-stones. As we approached the trees we observed Uralla gesticulating excitedly. He led us to the foot of a towering tree and there, lying at full length, hollow-featured and emaciated in every part, was the naked figure of a tall well-proportioned man of thirty or thereabouts, who had evidently undergone a terrible time of suffering and privation. He was not a native, that is, he was not of the ordinary type of Australian aboriginal. There was something decidedly superior both in the cast of his features and his general build; the head was of a more refined and regular formation, and his colour approximated more closely to Malayan brown than Australian black. Loops of roughly-fashioned gold were suspended from his ears—a circumstance that intensified my surprise, and, it is needless to remark, awakened the keenest interest on the part of our old friend Ben in the mysterious stranger. When we made our appearance, he opened wide his luminous eyes and regarded us with a look of unfeigned consternation, and then fainted away. We carried him to our camp, and Harry’s medical science was utilised to bring him round. When he came to, we gave him the best part of our breakfast, and the avidity with which he ate plainly proved that the poor fellow had not touched food for a considerable time. Then he fell asleep, and whilst he uneasily slumbered, we busied ourselves in speculations concerning him. All that we could gather from Uralla’s broken-English was that the stranger said his name was Wonga, and that his country was nine days to the north. He had pointed to his head and his horribly-wounded feet when Uralla asked him what had brought him so far south, and this action on his part was interpreted by Uralla as meaning that he had crossed the Great Stony Desert whilst in a state of delirium. This information led us to exchange ideas on the subject of that mysterious, high-spirited, intelligent race, reported by vague rumour as inhabiting an unapproachable region in the heart of the Australian continent. Could Wonga be one of this strange, isolated people, the first of his race to cross the Great Stony Desert that had baffled and discomfited every white explorer who had hitherto attempted to invade its frowning solitudes? It might be so, but we felt that a longer and closer acquaintance with Wonga would be necessary before the question could be satisfactorily answered.
A few days’ constant care and attention effected a wonderful change for the better in Wonga’s health and general appearance. His seamed and torn feet would require time to thoroughly heal, but, in all other respects, he was quite a new man. In size and strength he was the equal of Uralla himself, but there was an intellectuality in the expression of his countenance to which our boomerang professor could lay no claim. They soon became fast friends, and, although the dialects they spoke were by no means intimately related, they contrived to hit upon a sort of compromise language that seemed to answer remarkably well for general conversation. Wong evidently recognised that Harry was his great benefactor, and, if he could not speak his gratitude, he looked it more eloquently than words could testify. In Ben the ruling passion was plainly paramount, for we could see that he was exceedingly anxious to learn something about the golden ornaments in the ears of Wonga. One afternoon he resolved on satisfying some portion of his curiosity, and, pointing to Wonga’s massive ear-rings, he told Uralla to ask him was there much of that stuff in his country. Uralla replied:—“He say lot, plenty”—extending both hands. Whether he wished to give the most practical answer to the question, or whether he had divined the admiring glances of our veteran digging friend, I cannot say, but Wonga, with a pleasant smile, took the rings out of his ears and handed one to Harry and the other to Ben. As Ben was receiving his present from Wonga’s outstretched arm, I saw him suddenly turn deadly pale and heard him exclaim, “Good God!” as he closely scrutinised Wonga’s wrist.
“What is it, Ben?” I asked, approaching him.
“Stand back, Arthur, for God’s sake,” he cried. “Don’t come near just yet, but prepare yourself for the greatest surprise of your life. Come here, Uralla, ask him who put that writing on his arm?”
Uralla did so, and then translated the reply:—“White man, great chief, Wonga’s country, did it.
“Thank God!” cried Ben, dropping on his knees; my dear old friend is alive after all these years. Arthur, can you bear the good news? Your father lives.”
I remember staggering in a stupor to the side of Wonga, fiercely grasping his arm, and there reading in tattooed characters the ever-loved but long-lamented name:
Then I fell insensible to the ground.