|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
The Last Haunt of the Dinosaur
The May sun was shining into the largest of a set of rooms at one of the colleges in Oxford, as a man of about fifty years of age was walking up and down it, occasionally looking at a drawing hung against the wall, which depicted the outline of some antediluvian creature, half-reptile, half-animal, the name and identity of which certainly could not be found in any work on natural history of the present day.
The sketch had been built up from every available source, to represent the form which the draughtsman had imagined in his mind a Dinosaur to have looked like when alive.
Owen Griffith, the occupier of the room and the draughtsman, was a medical professor of the University, a good shot and a rider to the hounds in his time, and a hearty sportsman, but also an enthusiastic seeker from the depths of the earth of information as to what birds, beasts, and fishes inhabited this world in those times, when, more than probably, man was not existent.
The door of the room was opened and a young man named Lyall Somers came into the apartment. He had just got his degree, and had passed through the Science Schools with honours. He had come to have a talk with the Professor about a proposed excursion to South Africa, to hunt up the fossils of animals long since extinct, and to obtain, if possible, the skins and skeletons of a very rare kind of antelope, which far-shooting guns and European shooters would soon, it was thought, exterminate.
The two men were fast friends; both in their way athletes, and both full of eager enquiry into everything scientific.
They made arrangements to leave England by a Cape steamer in June, and to be away for six months, taking with them good guns and supplies, and all the requisite necessaries for an extended expedition into the centre of Africa, in pursuit of their two hobbies, geological lore and sport.
Their voyage to the Cape of Good Hope passed without remarkable incident, and they reached the Karroo, in Cape Colony, early in July, where, after examining the strata of rocks and finding many fossils of extinct creatures, their delight was great to learn from reports of Zulus and others, that in a country north of Khama's land, there was a place where "stone-bones," as the Hottentots called them, abounded in every cave, and where as yet game, and especially antelopes, could be shot in numbers.
The travellers were not long in setting out for this favoured spot of geology and sport. They both looked fit for the undertaking. Each strong and hearty for his years, and eager for fresh discoveries. Owen Griffith had let his beard grow untouched after leaving Oxford, but Somers still clung to his razor, only allowing a moustache above his lip. The men were dressed in true sportsman's style, each carrying his own rifle with the requisite ammunition about his person, but the Professor kept to his soft felt hat.
After passing through Mafeking and Khama's territory, they arrived at a place which they supposed, from its hilly and precipitous character, to be not far from the sources of the Vaal river. Here they reached the kraal of an old African chief, who manifested a most friendly disposition towards the Englishmen. He promised to assist them in getting to the place where the fossils were said to be found, and where game was abundant, but he was most urgent in warning them not to take a direct course to this promised land of geological treasure, as the straight road thither passed through a valley infested by demons and spirits of uncommon shape and form, from whom no human being could escape, and who destroyed all life within their reach.
The friendly old man procured negro carriers for the expedition, and with a parting injunction to the two travellers to avoid the "Valley of Death," and the hideous monsters said to inhabit it, started them on their journey.
July is the winter time of South Africa, and the sportsmen enjoyed themselves as they marched along, for the country swarmed with game, and during the day they managed to procure a specimen of the rare antelope they so much wished to obtain, and the trophies of which were one of the objects of the expedition.
In the evening the camp was formed near a running stream of water, and a survey was taken of their following. The Englishmen had brought two Zulus from the Karroo, and the old chief had supplied them with a headman and twelve carriers, so that their force consisted of seventeen men, all told. Several head of game, eland and hartebeest, springbok and other deer, had been shot as they came along, and the camp was redolent with frizzling venison to a late hour of the night.
After their supper Griffith and Somers were stretched out, lying at full length to leeward of the large fire, the smoke of which somewhat saved them from mosquitoes, when the young man asked his companion:
"What do you think, Professor, of the old chief's story about uncommon and dangerous beasts on our way?"
"I cannot make up my mind," replied the elder. "I have been thinking about it all day. He said this beast, or spirit, or devil, for he called it many names, when it moved about quickly, did so by a succession of spring-like jumps as a kangaroo does, only that it could leap over treesthat, of course, was a natural exaggeration. Now, the Dinosaurs, of prehistoric history, are supposed to have jumped about in this same manner, as may be gathered from the deep imprints of their hind feet, which were left in the sandy mud that has now become sandstone, but these Saurians belonged to quite another period. They have been extinct for centuries."
"Why should they be?" said Somers. "From what I can see, and you say, they must have had a shape just like the dragon St. George is said to have slain, and that not so many centuries ago."
"Do you think there ever was a St. George?" asked the Professor, with a fine expression of incredulity on his scornful lips.
"The tradition about St. George is as likely to be true as the figures and casts of extinct beasts which are set up in half the museums of the world," exclaimed his young companion.
"Show me the fossils of St. George, and I will tell you," replied Griffith, with an air of superiority, between the puffs of smoke from his lips.
"Ah, well! Some people are fossil mad. Not that I say you are, but you have got these Dinosaurs on the brain. With some men, I believe, they are creatures of the brain, but supposing that there were such beasts, I cannot see why some should not be alive still, in unknown places. People say the dodo may still be found in Madagascar."
"I don't believe it," broke in the Professor, sententiously.
"I heard you once say," rejoined Somers, "that there was nothing improbable in the appearance of a sea serpent."
"That is differentwholly different!" cried out the elder man, roused to animation by the discussion of his pet subjects. "There were monstrous beasts on earth once, enormous creatures, carnivorous and otherwise. This can be proved from their bones found all over the world; so, too, there may have been enormous sea monsters, and there may be now; we cannot get to the bottom of the sea to find out. The conditions of life in the two elements, land and water, are distinct. The earth mammals were buried in some way, under sand or mud from glaciers or earthquakes, whilst their bones remained, but the water is different. The sea would not bury its denizens. The sea serpent and monsters would remain in the water. In my opinion, the evidence is in favour of their existence now."
"I am going to sleep," muttered Somers, and he was soon unconscious of monsters and everything else, and his companion followed his example, after making up the fire.
The next morning preparations were made to resume the journey. The travellers suggested that as they went along they should keep near the stream of water beside which they had bivouacked, but a difficulty at once arose. The greater part of the old chief's carriers refused to take this road, saying it led down to the "Valley of Death," from which no man ever came out, and again, almost using the identical words of the friendly chief, a description was given of some hideous, wild, and ravenous creature as large, it was said, as a house, whose lair was somewhere in this valley, towards which the water ran.
The Englishmen argued the case, pointing to their splendid rifles, one of which, a two-ounce muzzle-loader that had killed an eland at 800 yards, the day before, and had excited the admiration of the carriers, was particularly shown to them by Somersbut it was of no use. Four men only consented to accompany the sportsmen through the valley, so that it was arranged that the others should carry the baggage round the hills that surrounded this place, and meet the Englishmen at a point beyond, where the water made its exit from the dwelling-place of dread and frightful beasts.
At the last moment one of the four negroes struck, and the large cavalcade that came thus far with the two travellers was reduced to five persons, who started in single file; a man who acted as guide in front, then the two Oxford men, and after them two carriers, carrying their blankets and cooking utensils. These continued their journey along the banks of the stream for a few miles through a country barren of trees, and sparsely covered with grass, until the party arrived at a very narrow gorge between two hills; after traversing this for some distance, the ravine suddenly opened, and the road ceased; the stream, by which they had journeyed, no longer meandered gently in its course, but dashed over rocks in a sparkling cascade, into a large valley, which was to be seen spread out before their feet. The pathway hitherto trod became merely a difficult and very steep track, down a cliff, into this valley.
But the view in front of the men was truly magnificent. Before them, looking north, was a vale clothed in verdure of tropical splendour. Here and there could be seen green savannahs of grass, leading down to the stream that ran through the middle of it, and around these natural meadows, up to the cliffs of rock, which enclosed the valley, masses of forest were growing primeval, and so thick and dense with foliage, that no sunshine penetrated their depths. In the blue distance, the eye viewed a very large lake, which simmered in the noonday heat, and appeared on the horizon of their view, showing that the exit of the water from the valley was there or somewhere near.
The men descended the face of the cliff slowly. The barefooted natives having not much difficulty, but the boot-shod Europeans were obliged to be extremely careful, or they would have slipped and fallen on the face of a rock, where there was nothing to hold on by.
At length they reached the bottom, and wearied by their down-climb, and the walk of the day, pitched their small tent on a piece of open ground near the foot of the cliff. Somers set to and boiled the kettle, and prepared the evening meal, and Griffith took a stroll with his rifle. He brought back a report that there must be some large animal in the valley; the tracks looked like those of an elephant, as large pathways had been made in the bed of the stream and alongside the banks, parallel to and close to the water.
"It was getting dusk," continued the Professor, "and I could not make out the footprints in the running water, but if there is a rogue male elephant about, he would cunningly lie in wait for anything coming to the water and would kill it. This may account for the tales of monsters."
The camp fire that night was made up of large logs of wood, and the men went to sleep around it with their feet towards the blaze. The night passed quietly.
All was hushed save the distant cry of some animal in the forest, and the murmur of the small waterfall.
Towards the morning one of the negroes was sitting up, preparatory to rising to feed the fire with fresh fuel, when he was suddenly seized by some wild animal, and his despairing shrieks for help as he was carried off roused the entire party.
"What is it? What can it be?" cried Griffith, springing up in the tent and seizing his rifle. Somers was already outside. The other two negroes had run behind the white men.
It was plain that one of the blacks had disappeared, and a large black form was seen diminishing into the gloom of the forest towards the water. No further sounds were heard after the shrieks and screams of the unfortunate victim, and the crunching made by the mysterious monster. The travellers waited for broad daylight for further explanation.
As the light increased, they followed the tracks, when emerging into the open a terrible sight was revealed. On a rock, about two hundred yards distant, in a glade of the forest and overhanging the stream, a horrible looking monster, with a body like an enormous rat, a tail like an alligator, with a long neck and head like a python, was tearing to pieces and devouring their late comrade. Somers took a deliberate aim and fired at the creature, which merely looked up, and, as if not liking the noise of the gun's report, carried the remainder of the unhappy negro's body in its mouth, and sliding off the rock into a pool of water formed by the stream, disappeared from sight.
"What a dreadful beast!" exclaimed Somers, white with excitement and alarm. "It's body is larger than an elephant's."
"It is a Dinosaur, a carnivorous Dinosaur," burst out the Professor, breathless with eager curiosity. "There is no doubt about that. The appearance corresponds in every particular with the description and drawings of a Dinosaur, both in America and Europe"; and he would have gone on with his excited talk, so full was he of the discovery, but the young mail cut him short.
"What we have to do is to kill this beast! Never mind what it is like. Let us see how to destroy it."
And after some deliberation they determined to seek the creature, and try what shooting at it at very close quarters would achieve.
"I should think a two-ounce ball just behind the shoulder would settle the matter," said Somers, carefully reloading his rifle. "There is no demon about it, or anything supernaturalonly flesh and blood; we can kill it if we try."
They started off in their quest of the Dinosaur, but although they searched the stream most carefully, they could not find the brute, and suspected that, having had its meal for the day, it was hiding, either in some hole in the water, or in the dark recesses of the forest.
After a fruitless search the men returned to their camp. A larger fire than usual was made, and after a night of fitful sleep, and a hasty meal in the morning, the two sportsmen shouldered their rifles, determining to follow the water all the way to the lake they had seen in the distance, and to find this dire beast of prey.
More by habit than from choice, a negro led the way by a few yards, the whole party proceeding cautiously down the valley. The beauty of the country was enchanting. Everywhere on each side of the stream, birds and butterflies of gorgeous appearance, showed themselves and fluttered from bush to bush, and feathery bamboos and the broad leaves of wild bananas mingled their foliage, but the watercourse itself bore testimony to the murderous nature of the semi-reptile that had made this fair scene its home. It was plain, that where any animals came to drink, this terrible creature sprang upon them and devoured them, and many places by the water had the appearance of the floor of a slaughterhouse.
The party had gone down the stream for a long distance, when finding the track of the Dinosaur looked old, they resolved to return, and as the path by the water was free from jungle, and easiest to walk upon, they were wending their way slowly back, when as they passed through some scrub, mixed with rocks and grass, the Dinosaur, with neck curled like a snake, leaped from the incredible distance of at least twenty yards on the unfortunate negro in front, seizing the man's head in his mouth at the same moment, and crushing in the skull with its bite. The Professor instantly fired his rifle, loaded with an express bullet, at the creature's eyes and head, and the beast for the moment let go the negro and made a dart at Griffith, and he again fired at it. In the meanwhile Somers discharged both barrels at the animal's body, but the balls glanced off its hide as if from a steel plate.
The effects of the Professor's shots must have told on the Dinosaur, for it lowered its head; at the same time emitting a dreadfully foul and suffocating stench from its mouth, which nearly stupefied the two sportsmen, and made them beat a hasty retreat. The remaining negro ran off as fast as possible.
When the two Englishmen had run to a distance of some three or four hundred yards they stopped and gasped for fresh air, the poisonous breath of the reptile having quite overcome them, and then reloaded their rifles as quickly as possible.
"We must attack the creature again," said the Professor. "It is of no use firing at its body. I believe that my shot injured an eye, if it did not destroy the sight, but your bullets went off the beast's back, with a sing in the air, that I could hear above all the noise. I was always of the opinion that the hides of these creatures must have been very thick and"
"Never mind about that now, Griffith," muttered Somers. "That will keep for the lecture room. Let us agree how we will shoot, and stick to that. What I advise is that we try to keep close to the Dinosaur's side, and I will fire both barrels into its body just behind its small forelegs, the skin of all animals is thin in that exact part. You fire your express straight into its mouth as it rears up. I could see the horrid brute's jaw gape, both when it was in the air and as it seized that poor black fellow."
They mutually agreed on this line of action, and retraced their steps. The Dinosaur had hardly moved, but with the front part of its body resting on the corpse of the negro, was swaying about its head, rubbing its right eye on the ground, the sight being plainly injured.
Somers, who was leading, took the cue from this, and approached the creature very slowly and cautiously on its right side. The stench and fetid odours emanating from it were horrible, but the two sportsmen held on, and crept up little by little. As soon as Somers was near enough to put the muzzle of his rifle almost touching the creature's skin, he fired both barrels at once. The recoil of the gun threw the young man back, but the Dinosaur, with a swift turn, drew itself up on its hind legs and arching its long neck brought its jaws down on Somer's head with a crash. The sun helmet that the sportsman wore was fortunately steel lined like a hunting cap, and although the beast's teeth went through it, inflicting severe wounds on the wearer's head, the cap came away in the reptile's mouth, and Griffith instantly shot at the creature's eyes, and the Dinosaur dropping the cap, renewed the attack. It was very severely wounded, but again raising itself up and curling its neck, with open mouth it seized the Professor by the right shoulder, and the bones of the man's upper arm crunched under the reptile's bite, as his rifle dropped from his hand. By this time, short as it was, Somers recognised the position, swiftly picking up his comrade's rifle, he put the mouth of the barrel close to the Dinosaur's left eye, and pulled the trigger. The beast at once let go the Professor's arm, and with a frightful hiss, leaped into the air, and was seen dragging itself slowly down the bed of the stream, towards the lake at the end of the valley.
Wounded as both the men were, Griffith's right arm being, of course, quite useless, they followed the trail of the Dinosaur. The water of the stream was crimsoned with the blood which was flowing from the animal's side.
"He has got four ounces of honest lead in his heart or lungs," said Somers, grimly, as they stopped an instant to look at a large pool of frothy blood which had run from the Dinosaur's wound as it had rested on its way for a while.
The Professor said little. The wounds from the reptile's teeth on his arm made him feel faint, and all the two Englishmen could do was to follow their quarry. At length they dragged themselves to the brink of the lake, which they had seen at a distance from the cliff, only to trace the Dinosaur to the water, into which it had gone and disappeared.
The sportsmen were completely done up with wounds and excitement, and they fell down sick and wearied, and utterly exhausted, and the remaining negro soon joined them, his eyeballs starting from his head with fear. The two Englishmen could go no further, and they sent the negro forward to try and find the baggage bearers, who were to meet them somewhere in that neighbourhood. He found them, and the kind old chief's headman appeared, and produced from the baggage a flask of brandy, a few spoonfuls of which revived the sufferers, and they signed to the man to lead them out of the valley.
After a time the travellers got back to Cape Town, satisfied for the present with their search for Saurian fossils, and when in due time they reached Oxford, they corrected the drawing of a Dinosaur which is hanging in the Professor's room.
|The English Illustrated Magazine, 1908.||Back to Cryptofiction|
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