My friend's fear or hope was not destined to be realized. When I called o_ednesday there was a letter with the West Kensington postmark upon it, and m_ame scrawled across the envelope in a handwriting which looked like a barbed- wire railing. The contents were as follows:—
"Enmore Park, W.
"Sir,—I have duly received your note, in which you claim to endorse my views, although I am not aware that they are dependent upon endorsement either fro_ou or anyone else. You have ventured to use the word 'speculation' wit_egard to my statement upon the subject of Darwinism, and I would call you_ttention to the fact that such a word in such a connection is offensive to _egree. The context convinces me, however, that you have sinned rather throug_gnorance and tactlessness than through malice, so I am content to pass th_atter by. You quote an isolated sentence from my lecture, and appear to hav_ome difficulty in understanding it. I should have thought that only a sub- human intelligence could have failed to grasp the point, but if it reall_eeds amplification I shall consent to see you at the hour named, thoug_isits and visitors of every sort are exceeding distasteful to me. As to you_uggestion that I may modify my opinion, I would have you know that it is no_y habit to do so after a deliberate expression of my mature views. You wil_indly show the envelope of this letter to my man, Austin, when you call, a_e has to take every precaution to shield me from the intrusive rascals wh_all themselves 'journalists.'
? ? ? "Yours faithfully,
? ? ? "George Edward Challenger."
This was the letter that I read aloud to Tarp Henry, who had come down earl_o hear the result of my venture. His only remark was, "There's some ne_tuff, cuticura or something, which is better than arnica." Some people hav_uch extraordinary notions of humor.
It was nearly half-past ten before I had received my message, but a taxica_ook me round in good time for my appointment. It was an imposing porticoe_ouse at which we stopped, and the heavily-curtained windows gave ever_ndication of wealth upon the part of this formidable Professor. The door wa_pened by an odd, swarthy, dried-up person of uncertain age, with a dark pilo_acket and brown leather gaiters. I found afterwards that he was th_hauffeur, who filled the gaps left by a succession of fugitive butlers. H_ooked me up and down with a searching light blue eye.
"Expected?" he asked.
"Got your letter?"
I produced the envelope.
"Right!" He seemed to be a person of few words. Following him down the passag_ was suddenly interrupted by a small woman, who stepped out from what prove_o be the dining-room door. She was a bright, vivacious, dark-eyed lady, mor_rench than English in her type.
"One moment," she said. "You can wait, Austin. Step in here, sir. May I ask i_ou have met my husband before?"
"No, madam, I have not had the honor."
"Then I apologize to you in advance. I must tell you that he is a perfectl_mpossible person—absolutely impossible. If you are forewarned you will be th_ore ready to make allowances."
"It is most considerate of you, madam."
"Get quickly out of the room if he seems inclined to be violent. Don't wait t_rgue with him. Several people have been injured through doing that.
Afterwards there is a public scandal and it reflects upon me and all of us. _uppose it wasn't about South America you wanted to see him?"
I could not lie to a lady.
"Dear me! That is his most dangerous subject. You won't believe a word h_ays—I'm sure I don't wonder. But don't tell him so, for it makes him ver_iolent. Pretend to believe him, and you may get through all right. Remembe_e believes it himself. Of that you may be assured. A more honest man neve_ived. Don't wait any longer or he may suspect. If you find hi_angerous—really dangerous—ring the bell and hold him off until I come. Eve_t his worst I can usually control him."
With these encouraging words the lady handed me over to the taciturn Austin, who had waited like a bronze statue of discretion during our short interview, and I was conducted to the end of the passage. There was a tap at a door, _ull's bellow from within, and I was face to face with the Professor.
He sat in a rotating chair behind a broad table, which was covered with books, maps, and diagrams. As I entered, his seat spun round to face me. Hi_ppearance made me gasp. I was prepared for something strange, but not for s_verpowering a personality as this. It was his size which took one's breat_way—his size and his imposing presence. His head was enormous, the largest _ave ever seen upon a human being. I am sure that his top-hat, had I eve_entured to don it, would have slipped over me entirely and rested on m_houlders. He had the face and beard which I associate with an Assyrian bull; the former florid, the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade-shaped and rippling down over his chest. The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead. Th_yes were blue-gray under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, an_ery masterful. A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel were th_ther parts of him which appeared above the table, save for two enormous hand_overed with long black hair. This and a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voic_ade up my first impression of the notorious Professor Challenger.
"Well?" said he, with a most insolent stare. "What now?"
I must keep up my deception for at least a little time longer, otherwise her_as evidently an end of the interview.
"You were good enough to give me an appointment, sir," said I, humbly, producing his envelope.
He took my letter from his desk and laid it out before him.
"Oh, you are the young person who cannot understand plain English, are you? M_eneral conclusions you are good enough to approve, as I understand?"
"Entirely, sir—entirely!" I was very emphatic.
"Dear me! That strengthens my position very much, does it not? Your age an_ppearance make your support doubly valuable. Well, at least you are bette_han that herd of swine in Vienna, whose gregarious grunt is, however, no_ore offensive than the isolated effort of the British hog." He glared at m_s the present representative of the beast.
"They seem to have behaved abominably," said I.
"I assure you that I can fight my own battles, and that I have no possibl_eed of your sympathy. Put me alone, sir, and with my back to the wall. G. E.
C. is happiest then. Well, sir, let us do what we can to curtail this visit, which can hardly be agreeable to you, and is inexpressibly irksome to me. Yo_ad, as I have been led to believe, some comments to make upon the propositio_hich I advanced in my thesis."
There was a brutal directness about his methods which made evasion difficult.
I must still make play and wait for a better opening. It had seemed simpl_nough at a distance. Oh, my Irish wits, could they not help me now, when _eeded help so sorely? He transfixed me with two sharp, steely eyes. "Come, come!" he rumbled.
"I am, of course, a mere student," said I, with a fatuous smile, "hardly more, I might say, than an earnest inquirer. At the same time, it seemed to me tha_ou were a little severe upon Weissmann in this matter. Has not the genera_vidence since that date tended to—well, to strengthen his position?"
"What evidence?" He spoke with a menacing calm.
"Well, of course, I am aware that there is not any what you might cal_efinite evidence. I alluded merely to the trend of modern thought and th_eneral scientific point of view, if I might so express it."
He leaned forward with great earnestness.
"I suppose you are aware," said he, checking off points upon his fingers,
"that the cranial index is a constant factor?"
"Naturally," said I.
"And that telegony is still sub judice?"
"And that the germ plasm is different from the parthenogenetic egg?"
"Why, surely!" I cried, and gloried in my own audacity.
"But what does that prove?" he asked, in a gentle, persuasive voice.
"Ah, what indeed?" I murmured. "What does it prove?"
"Shall I tell you?" he cooed.
"It proves," he roared, with a sudden blast of fury, "that you are th_amnedest imposter in London—a vile, crawling journalist, who has no mor_cience than he has decency in his composition!"
He had sprung to his feet with a mad rage in his eyes. Even at that moment o_ension I found time for amazement at the discovery that he was quite a shor_an, his head not higher than my shoulder—a stunted Hercules whose tremendou_itality had all run to depth, breadth, and brain.
"Gibberish!" he cried, leaning forward, with his fingers on the table and hi_ace projecting. "That's what I have been talking to you, sir—scientifi_ibberish! Did you think you could match cunning with me—you with your walnu_f a brain? You think you are omnipotent, you infernal scribblers, don't you?
That your praise can make a man and your blame can break him? We must all bo_o you, and try to get a favorable word, must we? This man shall have a le_p, and this man shall have a dressing down! Creeping vermin, I know you!
You've got out of your station. Time was when your ears were clipped. You'v_ost your sense of proportion. Swollen gas-bags! I'll keep you in your prope_lace. Yes, sir, you haven't got over G. E. C. There's one man who is stil_our master. He warned you off, but if you will come, by the Lord you do it a_our own risk. Forfeit, my good Mr. Malone, I claim forfeit! You have played _ather dangerous game, and it strikes me that you have lost it."
"Look here, sir," said I, backing to the door and opening it; "you can be a_busive as you like. But there is a limit. You shall not assault me."
"Shall I not?" He was slowly advancing in a peculiarly menacing way, but h_topped now and put his big hands into the side-pockets of a rather boyis_hort jacket which he wore. "I have thrown several of you out of the house.
You will be the fourth or fifth. Three pound fifteen each—that is how i_veraged. Expensive, but very necessary. Now, sir, why should you not follo_our brethren? I rather think you must." He resumed his unpleasant an_tealthy advance, pointing his toes as he walked, like a dancing master.
I could have bolted for the hall door, but it would have been too ignominious.
Besides, a little glow of righteous anger was springing up within me. I ha_een hopelessly in the wrong before, but this man's menaces were putting me i_he right.
"I'll trouble you to keep your hands off, sir. I'll not stand it."
"Dear me!" His black moustache lifted and a white fang twinkled in a sneer.
"You won't stand it, eh?"
"Don't be such a fool, Professor!" I cried. "What can you hope for? I'_ifteen stone, as hard as nails, and play center three-quarter every Saturda_or the London Irish. I'm not the man——"
It was at that moment that he rushed me. It was lucky that I had opened th_oor, or we should have gone through it. We did a Catharine-wheel togethe_own the passage. Somehow we gathered up a chair upon our way, and bounded o_ith it towards the street. My mouth was full of his beard, our arms wer_ocked, our bodies intertwined, and that infernal chair radiated its legs al_ound us. The watchful Austin had thrown open the hall door. We went with _ack somersault down the front steps. I have seen the two Macs attemp_omething of the kind at the halls, but it appears to take some practise to d_t without hurting oneself. The chair went to matchwood at the bottom, and w_olled apart into the gutter. He sprang to his feet, waving his fists an_heezing like an asthmatic.
"Had enough?" he panted.
"You infernal bully!" I cried, as I gathered myself together.
Then and there we should have tried the thing out, for he was effervescin_ith fight, but fortunately I was rescued from an odious situation. _oliceman was beside us, his notebook in his hand.
"What's all this? You ought to be ashamed," said the policeman. It was th_ost rational remark which I had heard in Enmore Park. "Well," he insisted, turning to me, "what is it, then?"
"This man attacked me," said I.
"Did you attack him?" asked the policeman.
The Professor breathed hard and said nothing.
"It's not the first time, either," said the policeman, severely, shaking hi_ead. "You were in trouble last month for the same thing. You've blackene_his young man's eye. Do you give him in charge, sir?"
"No," said I, "I do not."
"What's that?" said the policeman.
"I was to blame myself. I intruded upon him. He gave me fair warning."
The policeman snapped up his notebook.
"Don't let us have any more such goings-on," said he. "Now, then! Move on, there, move on!" This to a butcher's boy, a maid, and one or two loafers wh_ad collected. He clumped heavily down the street, driving this little floc_efore him. The Professor looked at me, and there was something humorous a_he back of his eyes.
"Come in!" said he. "I've not done with you yet."
The speech had a sinister sound, but I followed him none the less into th_ouse. The man-servant, Austin, like a wooden image, closed the door behin_s.