“My dear Adam, all you say is perfectly right, and, were we starting on such an investigation, we could not do better than follow your reasoning. But, my dear boy, you must remember that all this took place thousands of years ago. You must remember, too, that all records of the kind that would help us are lacking. Also, that the places to be considered were desert, so far as human habitation or population are considered. In the vast desolation of such a place as complied with the necessary conditions, there must have been such profusion of natural growth as would bar the progress of men formed as we are. The lair of such a monster would not have been disturbed for hundreds—or thousands—of years. Moreover, these creatures must have occupied places quite inaccessible to man. A snake who could make himself comfortable in a quagmire, a hundred feet deep, would be protected on the outskirts by such stupendous morasses as now no longer exist, or which, if they exist anywhere at all, can be on very few places on the earth’s surface. Far be it from me to say that in more elemental times such things could not have been. The condition belongs to the geologic age—the great birth and growth of the world, when natural forces ran riot, when the struggle for existence was so savage that no vitality which was not founded in a gigantic form could have even a possibility of survival. That such a time existed, we have evidences in geology, but there only; we can never expect proofs such as this age demands. We can only imagine or surmise such things—or such conditions and such forces as overcame them.”
At breakfast-time next morning Sir Nathaniel and Mr. Salton were seated when Adam came hurriedly into the room.
“Any news?” asked his uncle mechanically.
“Four what?” asked Sir Nathaniel.
“Snakes,” said Adam, helping himself to a grilled kidney.
“Four snakes. I don’t understand.”
“Mongoose,” said Adam, and then added explanatorily: “I was out with the mongoose just after three.”
“Four snakes in one morning! Why, I didn’t know there were so many on the Brow”—the local name for the western cliff. “I hope that wasn’t the consequence of our talk of last night?”
“It was, sir. But not directly.”
“But, God bless my soul, you didn’t expect to get a snake like the Lambton worm, did you? Why, a mongoose, to tackle a monster like that—if there were one—would have to be bigger than a haystack.”
“These were ordinary snakes, about as big as a walking-stick.”
“Well, it’s pleasant to be rid of them, big or little. That is a good mongoose, I am sure; he’ll clear out all such vermin round here,” said Mr. Salton.