Masterworks of Adventure: Lost Worlds

The Ultimate Anthology: 32 Classic Tales

Long before Indiana Jones... The ‘Lost World’ or ‘Lost Race’ genre was one of the most popular genres of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This Masterworks of Adventure anthology is a collection of 32 tales considered to be among the best and most influential works. We started with 333: A Bibliography of the Science-Fantasy Novel, by Crawford, Donahue and Grant (1953), which lists the best works published before 1950, then cross-referenced them with Science-fiction, the Early Years by Everett Franklin Bleiler and Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Lost Race Check Guide, the ultimate checklist for collectors. You’ll find stories told in a variety of styles: travelogues, boy’s adventure, romantic adventure, philosophical adventure and pulp fiction. Some have been made available for Kindle for the very first time and are exclusive to ROH Press.

What people are saying

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

Check out each title's rating on Goodreads.com

The Bridge of Light

Chapter 1: A Baffling Document

LOOKING BACK UPON IT NOW I find it difficult indeed to convince myself that I actually passed through such amazing and incredible adventures as I am describing. Yet I have only to glance at my left arm and see the livid scars upon it in order to vividly recall every detail of my marvellous experience. Moreover, there is the tattooed symbol upon my chest, while if I needed further confirmation of the actuality of it all there is Itzá. Surely she is very real, and should occasion arise she could confirm the greater part of my story.
Even as I am writing I have but to lift my eyes from the table before me in order to see her, seated in the hammock swung on the porch, her dark head bent over some delicate bit of handiwork, her rounded cheek and the curve of her neck glowing like old gold in the diffused light—as exotic as an orchid flower amid her conventional surroundings. But I find I am digressing, as I invariably do when I see or hear Itzá...
It all began in a most ordinary way at Vigo, Spain. I was returning via Europe from an expedition to South America, and as my ship was to remain for several hours at Vigo I decided to stretch my sea-weary legs by a stroll through the picturesque port and, incidentally, have a look at the second-hand book shops where, on previous visits, I had picked up some most interesting old books and curios.
Ascending the steep Calle San Sebastian I reached the Avenida Principal with its rush of traffic and crowded sidewalks, and turning to the right entered a narrow dark alley. A moment later I passed beneath a medieval archway and found myself in the Plazuela de Tres Santos, and stepped back into old Spain. But the tiny flagged plaza, the ancient sagging time-aged buildings, the picturesquely-clad people, the filth, squalor and odours were an old story to me. Scarcely glancing to left or right I crossed the plazuela to a ramshackle shop above whose door a faded sign informed the world that Miguel José Salceda bought and sold antiques, curios and second-hand articles of all descriptions.
It was a mere cubby hole in the massive wall of what once had been a monastery, but Miguel José had the entire plaza at his disposal and he had taken possession of several square yards of it. On boxes, tables and even upon the worn stone flagging the overflow of his stock in trade was piled and spread, looking for all the world as though the shop had spilled its contents into the square. Seated in the midst of the aggregation of everything imaginable in the shape of junk and odds and ends, was the proprietor himself. Propped against the wall in the shade, his hands clasped across his ample paunch, Señor Salceda was enjoying his afternoon siesta.
Having no wish to disturb his slumbers, I moved about among his wares, examining the litter of battered, dust-covered books upon a rough deal table. Presently Don José raised his head, yawned prodigiously, stretched himself and opening his single eye caught sight of me. Instantly he sprang to his feet and hurried forward grinning until his leathery unshaven cheeks resembled a relief map of his native Pyrennes.
“Gracias a Dios, ’tis the English Señor again!” he cried, patting me on the back and embracing me in Spanish fashion.
“And how is the illustrious Señor, and his dear Mama and his lovely Señora and his four—no, I mistake, it is five—niñitos?”
“No, Don José,” I replied with a laugh, “it is not the English Señor but the Americano, and as I have neither mother, wife nor children—either four or five—I cannot tell you how they fare. Personally, amigo, I am in most excellent health as I trust is the case with yourself and your family.”
“Si, si, now I remember,” he declared. “But it is of no importance whether an Americano or an Ingles. They are the same species; all are rich, all are fond of books and all love their little jokes. As for the others—Valgame Dios, if you have no mother now you had one once—may her soul rest in peace—and you may yet have a lovely Señora and four or maybe five little ones. But you wish old books, Señor. Have you found what you desire?”
I asked the old fellow the price of the two volumes I had selected. One was a scarce edition of “Don Quixote”, the other a copy of a quaint old work on the Antilles, and both were battered, stained, their covers torn and warped, but in good condition within. Salceda, I knew, had no idea of the true value of his stock but priced articles according to the status of the prospective purchaser. And I was not surprised when he calmly informed me the two volumes were worth twenty pesetas.
“Not to me,” I told him, tossing the books upon the table. As I did so one of the volumes slipped to the pavement and as Salceda stooped to recover it, a piece of folded stained paper dropped from between the leaves.
“How much will your Excellency pay?” he asked as he glanced at the paper in his hand.
“Ten pesetas, no more,” I replied.
“It is nothing, nothing for such fine old books,” he protested, “but the Señor Ingles—or is it Americano—knows what he can pay.”
As I counted out the money he half unfolded the scrap of paper he held and apparently deeming it worthless turned to toss it into a pile of rubbish. But I had caught a glimpse of red, blue and green upon it and thinking it might be an old map, I stayed his hand.
“Hold on,” I exclaimed. “That belongs with the book.”
“I think not, Señor,” he said as he squinted at it, “but perhaps a map or an old picture left in the book by mistake. It is of no value, but the American Señor cares for old things and this is very old, Si,” he continued as he again focused his one eye upon the paper and cocked his head on one side. “Si, of a truth I should say it is antediluvian. So, if the Señor desires it—well, perhaps a peseta or two.”
Very possibly, I thought, it was valueless and belonged in the rubbish, but I was curious to learn what it was, and handing Salceda two additional coins I slipped the stained and frayed paper into one of my books and departed with his fervent, “May you go with God, Señor,” in my ears.
Little did I dream what a strange investment I had made or through what amazing experiences and adventures that fragment of paper would lead me. Indeed, at the time I gave it so little thought that it completely faded from my mind until we were well out at sea and I opened the “Explorations, Discoveries, Strange Sights and Remarkable Adventures in the Indies, etc.” penned by the imaginative Sebastian Gomez. Then coming upon my two peseta purchase, I unfolded it carefully, for it was creased and very old. The next moment I fairly gasped, staring incredulously at what I had revealed. One glance at the inner surface of the sheet had been enough.
It was a codex, one of those strange pictographic records kept by the ancient Aztecs and Mayas! Less than a dozen originals were in existence as far as known. Could this be an original or was it merely a copy? Could it be one of the lost codices? If so it was priceless, irreplaceable; and with shaking fingers, almost reverently, I examined and studied the texture of the material through my pocket lens. It was unquestionably ancient papyrus. The colour, the technique of the green, red, blue and yellow figures proved it no copy. Old José had spoken far more truly than he had thought when he jokingly had pronounced it “antediluvian.”
Incredulously I studied the codex which, by merest chance, had come into my possession. I puzzled my brains to decipher or decode it, to recognize the figures of conventionalized human beings, of deities and weird beasts. I was familiar with Aztec pictographs and possessed a good knowledge of Mayan glyphs, but somehow these figures did not appear like either. Yet of the two they seemed more Mayan than Aztecan. A hope rose in my breast, a hope that I had stumbled upon one of the long-lost, missing records of the Mayas.
Only three Maya codices were known, yet there must have been many—hundreds in all probability—taken back to Spain as curios by the returning conquerors. Was it, therefore, beyond the bounds of possibility, even of probability, that some of these might yet be preserved, their value unknown to their owners, perhaps regarded as worthless scraps of paper or old maps, and that one such had been tucked between the pages of the ancient book I had purchased?
The more I thought of it the more reasonable it seemed. And if the bit of papyrus should prove to be a missing codex of the Mayas, then I had fallen head over heels into good luck. Not only would it be of incalculable scientific value, but in addition it would possess a very tangible and high value in good dollars and cents. That feature of the matter was a very important factor to me, I must confess. Scientists must live, and like most scientists—more especially archaeologists and ethnologists—I was not overburdened with worldly goods. My last expedition had drained my resources, and even if I disposed of my collections, which would be a slow and uncertain procedure, I would be little better off than when I had started. But if the scrap of papyrus before me proved to be a Mayan codex, I need not worry over my future.
I chuckled to myself as my thoughts dwelt on such a possibility. I had devoted years to explorations in far-off lands, I had undergone hardships, had had my share of sufferings, had risked health and life a thousand times in search of archaeological finds, yet had found a far greater treasure in a second-hand shop in Vigo than in all my wanderings and explorations.
I brought myself back to earth with something of an effort. I was building castles in the air with no tangible basis for their foundation. The papyrus might be comparatively worthless, perhaps a copy or even a genuine codex made subsequent to the Spanish conquest. Until I could have its origin, its age and its value established by experts, I would dismiss the matter from my mind.
My first act after reaching London was to hurry to the British Museum with my find, and for once my old friend, Dr. Joyce, lost his habitual nonchalance when he examined the codex. He uttered an ejaculation of astonishment, his eyes sparkled and he became obviously excited.
“Extraordinary!” he exclaimed. “What a jolly find! Of course I cannot be positive on such a superficial examination,” he continued, “but it unquestionably is a codex, and I should surmise of Mayan origin. The date symbols are assuredly Mayan, but there are other details that excite doubt. But of course we know so very little about Mayan codices. And it seems to bear certain Aztec characteristics. Possible it is a codex of an independent Maya state that came under Aztec influence. But we should be able to ascertain its age; the date symbols are very clear.”
He studied it carefully. “Ah, here it is!” he cried jubilantly, “If I am not mistaken this symbol reads 8 Ahau 12 or is it 13? Well, either 12 or 13, the units are highly decorated and involved. But anyway, 8 Ahau and either 12 or 13 Ceh in the Calendar Round. There appears to be an Initial Series date also. However, the Calendar Round will place its age approximately. Let me see, that would be about 90-94 B.C.”
I gasped. The codex, if Dr. Joyce had not made an error—and he was probably the greatest living authority on the subject—was more than two thousand years old! But aside from deciphering the date, Dr. Joyce could make little more of the codex than could I. And before I could turn it into cash, before it held any great scientific value, it was essential that I find someone who could establish its origin, its identity and its meaning.
At Dr. Joyce’s suggestion I next visited Oxford and called on Professor McCleod, who, as everyone knows, had made a life study of ancient American glyphs and symbols. But once again I was disappointed, for Professor McLeod could throw no greater light on the subject than could Dr. Joyce.
Following this I made the rounds of nearly all the archaeologists and students of pre-Columbian American races, but without results. All agreed that the papyrus was a genuine codex, all agreed that it bore features of Mayan origin, and all agreed that it was so distinct from all other known codices that it was an insoluble puzzle to them. Also all agreed that if its origin could be established it would be the most valuable codex in existence and readily saleable for many thousands of pounds.
So with the codex still a mystery I sailed for New York and lost no time in consulting the many experts on Central American and Mexican archaeology. But I obtained little more information than I had secured in England. The American Museum in New York City, The Museum of the American Indian, the Peabody Museum of Cambridge, the Pennsylvania Museum and scores of others were visited. But neither Dr. Whistler, Professor Saville, Dr. Spinden, Dr. Mason nor any other of the scores of authorities I consulted dared express a definite opinion. The codex was genuine, it was remarkable, its date was established, but beyond that it was the greatest puzzle that had confronted the most eminent archaeologists in many years.
I did, however, secure some additional information. One scientist established the fact that the codex recorded some historical event and a migration. Another was positive it dealt with a myth or a prophecy and he identified the symbol of Kukulcan, the Maya’s hero-god or “Plumed Serpent” as the dominating figure; while a third authority discovered symbols indicating that the codex embodied the features of a map and described some unknown locality.
By this time my interest in the monetary value of the codex had become submerged in my curiosity to learn its origin and import, and I decided that my only chance of doing so was to visit the authorities at the Museo Nacionál in Mexico City.
Professor Alessandro Cervantes received me cordially and with enthusiasm for he had already heard of my puzzling codex and was elated that I should have brought it to him. He was tremendously excited as he examined it, declared positively it was genuine, assured me it was Mayan and unhesitatingly placed it as belonging to the Old Empire period of the Maya civilization, and hence of Guatemalan origin.
“Of a truth it is most wonderful, most astounding!” he exclaimed. “In all the world there is no such other. All known are of the New Empire. It is beyond price, amigo. If it can be deciphered it will solve many mysteries. It may hold the key to matters which have puzzled us for many years. It deals with Kukulcan, as my friend Saville stated. It tells of a migration and a prophecy both, and it is historical, religious and mythological all in one. But,” he shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands, “my poor knowledge is inadequate to decipher it in detail. However,” he continued as he noticed my disappointment at his words, “I have a very good friend who, I feel sure, can succeed where all others have failed. He dwells not here in Mexico but in the little village of Xibaltango in Guatemala.”
“In that case I shall go to Guatemala,” I declared. “Will you give me a letter of introduction to your friend?”
“Most gladly!” he assured me. “He is a poor priest—a most holy and devoted Padre who gives his last centavos to the Indies of his parish and goes hungry that they may eat. And when I scold him for so doing, what answer does Fray José make me? That it is the duty of all Spaniards, and of priests in particular, to make what amends they may for the wrongs and cruelties inflicted upon the Indians by Spaniards in the past. Caramba, amigo, what reasoning! Were I, who have the blood of Aztecs in my veins, to go in rags and with bare feet and with empty stomach, would it bring Montezuma back to life? Would such actions cancel the tortures of Guatemozin on the rack?
But Padre José is most holy and most wise and a deep student of all the past of his country. Si, Señor, he speaks a dozen of the native dialects, he knows the myths and legends of the Indios as well as they do themselves; he takes part in their fiestas, and he is beloved by them all. And he reads the ancient Maya glyphs as easily as he reads Castilian or the Latin of his office. Si, amigo, Fray José is the one man who may be able to solve the riddle of your puzzling codex.”

***

I found Fray José in his modest quarters adjoining the ancient church in the tiny Indian village of Xibaltango. I had expected to see a cowled and tonsured priest, a greyed ascetic bent with years and with face seamed with the marks of self-denial, fasting and a rigorous life. In fact I had visualized him as a living counterpart of a martyr or a saint. Instead, the man who greeted me was short, corpulent, with a round brown face, merry grey eyes and smiling lips; and in place of cassock and cowl he wore a costume of hand-woven Indian cotton. If, as Professor Cervantes had said, the Padre starved himself in order that his Indians might eat, then most assuredly he thrived on starvation, for he looked the picture of health. He was as jolly and as merry as his features implied, and he welcomed me effusively, apologizing for his home but assuring me, in true Spanish fashion, that such as it was it was all mine.
“But what would you?” he cried as with his beretta he dusted off an antique leather chair and asked me to be seated. “What would you? I am remote, alone, in the wilderness among the Indios and I see not one white man, one stranger in many years. Yet I am not lonely. I am happy, I love the Indios—though of a truth my labours are of little avail. They are all Christians; all attend my little church, all are baptized, christened, married and buried according to the rites of the Church; but, as the Señor knows, they are ever pagans at heart. Not one there is, I feel sure, who does not secretly worship the old gods, who does not follow out the old religion of the Mayas. They are Christians to please me, to gain what they may and because they do not feel too certain whether the Christian or the pagan God is the more powerful. But they are good children, Señor, kind and lovable and generous and I find life far from dull, what with my religious duties and studying the ancient traditions and striving in my poor way to decipher the inscriptions and to unravel the mysteries of the past. And my very good friend, Professor Alessandro, tells me in his letter that you have a codex even he cannot decipher. I fear me, Señor, that if he has failed, my poor knowledge will be of little service.”
But Padre José deprecated his ability and his knowledge. “Wonderful!” he cried as he studied the codex. “It is indeed of the Old Empire. It is a sacred codex, a religious myth and a history dealing with Kukulcan. But, Señor, it is unlike any other. It is, I am sure, a codex in cipher. Often, on the monuments, I have found inscriptions which I feel certain are in cipher and in this wonderful codex I see some of the same symbols. That is the reason why no one has been able to read it. One must know the key, the code, to interpret its meaning. But, much as I regret to admit it, only a Maya of the priest-cult would possess that knowledge.”
I was sorely disappointed. I had travelled thousands of miles. I had wasted months of time and had exhausted my resources only to find that I had accomplished nothing. I laughed bitterly.
“In that case,” I said, “the codex never will be deciphered. It is worth only its value as a curio specimen. In order to find the man who could read it, I would have to go back several centuries and be here before the Spanish conquest. The Maya priests are things of the dead past.”
The Padre’s eyes twinkled and he chuckled. “Perhaps, my son, I may be able to help you accomplish that miracle,” he said. “Would you care to step into the past and meet one of the long-vanished priest clan of the Mayas?”
“What do you mean?” I exclaimed. “Do some of them still survive?”
He nodded. “Many things exist of which the outside world knows nothing,” he declared. “Many of the Indios still worship in the ancient temples and to do so they must have priests of the old faith. Though it is guarded as a profound secret, yet the priest clans still survive. I, alone of all white men, have learned something of them. The Indios trust me, and, I believe love me for the little I have done to help them, and they have confided in me to some extent.
“Si, Señor, I know of temples wherein they yet worship the gods of their ancestors, and I know one priest of the cult of Xibalba who might reveal to you the contents of your codex. Were I in person to go to him I feel certain he would do so, but that I cannot do, for my duty lies here. However, I will give to you that which will win his confidence and mayhap, with your knowledge of the Indians’ ways, you may induce him to aid you. Quien sabe?”
I was elated. Even if I accomplished nothing in regard to the codex, I would have the opportunity of studying the ancient priest cult, and I felt confident that the scientific discoveries I would make would amply repay me. But I soon learned that my visit to the Mayan priest was not to be accomplished as easily as I had expected.
“Katchilcan, the priest of Xibalba, speaks only his Zutugil dialect,” the Padre informed me. “No doubt he understands some Spanish—he may even be able to converse in that tongue, but he will not do so. If you are to visit his village, in fact if you are to journey through the country, you must learn the Maya language. But that matter, to you who have learned so many Indian dialects, will not require a great time and will not be difficult. My own knowledge is not accurate enough to enable me to teach you, but I have a friend, an Indio who cares for my chapel at Totil, who speaks Spanish fluently and is most intelligent. It was he who instructed me and if you do not mind the time and the journey you can stop at Totil and from Pedro acquire a knowledge of the Zutugil tongue. And Totil is on the route to the village of Katchilcan.”
Once having made up my mind to exhaust every chance of learning the contents of the codex and establishing its identity beyond question, I was not to be balked by the obstacle of learning a new Indian dialect, and a few days later, I bade farewell to the Padre José and started for the remote village of Totil.