What with the physical shocks incidental to my first interview with Professo_hallenger and the mental ones which accompanied the second, I was a somewha_emoralized journalist by the time I found myself in Enmore Park once more. I_y aching head the one thought was throbbing that there really was truth i_his man's story, that it was of tremendous consequence, and that it woul_ork up into inconceivable copy for the Gazette when I could obtain permissio_o use it. A taxicab was waiting at the end of the road, so I sprang into i_nd drove down to the office. McArdle was at his post as usual.
"Well," he cried, expectantly, "what may it run to? I'm thinking, young man, you have been in the wars. Don't tell me that he assaulted you."
"We had a little difference at first."
"What a man it is! What did you do?"
"Well, he became more reasonable and we had a chat. But I got nothing out o_im—nothing for publication."
"I'm not so sure about that. You got a black eye out of him, and that's fo_ublication. We can't have this reign of terror, Mr. Malone. We must bring th_an to his bearings. I'll have a leaderette on him to-morrow that will raise _lister. Just give me the material and I will engage to brand the fellow fo_ver. Professor Munchausen—how's that for an inset headline? Sir Joh_andeville redivivus—Cagliostro—all the imposters and bullies in history. I'l_how him up for the fraud he is."
"I wouldn't do that, sir."
"Because he is not a fraud at all."
"What!" roared McArdle. "You don't mean to say you really believe this stuf_f his about mammoths and mastodons and great sea sairpents?"
"Well, I don't know about that. I don't think he makes any claims of tha_ind. But I do believe he has got something new."
"Then for Heaven's sake, man, write it up!"
"I'm longing to, but all I know he gave me in confidence and on condition tha_ didn't." I condensed into a few sentences the Professor's narrative. "That'_ow it stands."
McArdle looked deeply incredulous.
"Well, Mr. Malone," he said at last, "about this scientific meeting to-night; there can be no privacy about that, anyhow. I don't suppose any paper wil_ant to report it, for Waldron has been reported already a dozen times, and n_ne is aware that Challenger will speak. We may get a scoop, if we are lucky.
You'll be there in any case, so you'll just give us a pretty full report. I'l_eep space up to midnight."
My day was a busy one, and I had an early dinner at the Savage Club with Tar_enry, to whom I gave some account of my adventures. He listened with _ceptical smile on his gaunt face, and roared with laughter on hearing tha_he Professor had convinced me.
"My dear chap, things don't happen like that in real life. People don'_tumble upon enormous discoveries and then lose their evidence. Leave that t_he novelists. The fellow is as full of tricks as the monkey-house at the Zoo.
It's all bosh."
"But the American poet?"
"He never existed."
"I saw his sketch-book."
"You think he drew that animal?"
"Of course he did. Who else?"
"Well, then, the photographs?"
"There was nothing in the photographs. By your own admission you only saw _ird."
"That's what he says. He put the pterodactyl into your head."
"Well, then, the bones?"
"First one out of an Irish stew. Second one vamped up for the occasion. If yo_re clever and know your business you can fake a bone as easily as you can _hotograph."
I began to feel uneasy. Perhaps, after all, I had been premature in m_cquiescence. Then I had a sudden happy thought.
"Will you come to the meeting?" I asked.
Tarp Henry looked thoughtful.
"He is not a popular person, the genial Challenger," said he. "A lot of peopl_ave accounts to settle with him. I should say he is about the best-hated ma_n London. If the medical students turn out there will be no end of a rag. _on't want to get into a bear-garden."
"You might at least do him the justice to hear him state his own case."
"Well, perhaps it's only fair. All right. I'm your man for the evening."
When we arrived at the hall we found a much greater concourse than I ha_xpected. A line of electric broughams discharged their little cargoes o_hite-bearded professors, while the dark stream of humbler pedestrians, wh_rowded through the arched door-way, showed that the audience would be popula_s well as scientific. Indeed, it became evident to us as soon as we had take_ur seats that a youthful and even boyish spirit was abroad in the gallery an_he back portions of the hall. Looking behind me, I could see rows of faces o_he familiar medical student type. Apparently the great hospitals had eac_ent down their contingent. The behavior of the audience at present was good- humored, but mischievous. Scraps of popular songs were chorused with a_nthusiasm which was a strange prelude to a scientific lecture, and there wa_lready a tendency to personal chaff which promised a jovial evening t_thers, however embarrassing it might be to the recipients of these dubiou_onors.
Thus, when old Doctor Meldrum, with his well-known curly-brimmed opera-hat, appeared upon the platform, there was such a universal query of "Where did yo_et that tile?" that he hurriedly removed it, and concealed it furtively unde_is chair. When gouty Professor Wadley limped down to his seat there wer_eneral affectionate inquiries from all parts of the hall as to the exac_tate of his poor toe, which caused him obvious embarrassment. The greates_emonstration of all, however, was at the entrance of my new acquaintance, Professor Challenger, when he passed down to take his place at the extreme en_f the front row of the platform. Such a yell of welcome broke forth when hi_lack beard first protruded round the corner that I began to suspect Tar_enry was right in his surmise, and that this assemblage was there not merel_or the sake of the lecture, but because it had got rumored abroad that th_amous Professor would take part in the proceedings.
There was some sympathetic laughter on his entrance among the front benches o_ell-dressed spectators, as though the demonstration of the students in thi_nstance was not unwelcome to them. That greeting was, indeed, a frightfu_utburst of sound, the uproar of the carnivora cage when the step of th_ucket-bearing keeper is heard in the distance. There was an offensive tone i_t, perhaps, and yet in the main it struck me as mere riotous outcry, th_oisy reception of one who amused and interested them, rather than of one the_isliked or despised. Challenger smiled with weary and tolerant contempt, as _indly man would meet the yapping of a litter of puppies. He sat slowly down, blew out his chest, passed his hand caressingly down his beard, and looke_ith drooping eyelids and supercilious eyes at the crowded hall before him.
The uproar of his advent had not yet died away when Professor Ronald Murray, the chairman, and Mr. Waldron, the lecturer, threaded their way to the front, and the proceedings began.
Professor Murray will, I am sure, excuse me if I say that he has the commo_ault of most Englishmen of being inaudible. Why on earth people who hav_omething to say which is worth hearing should not take the slight trouble t_earn how to make it heard is one of the strange mysteries of modern life.
Their methods are as reasonable as to try to pour some precious stuff from th_pring to the reservoir through a non-conducting pipe, which could by th_east effort be opened. Professor Murray made several profound remarks to hi_hite tie and to the water-carafe upon the table, with a humorous, twinklin_side to the silver candlestick upon his right. Then he sat down, and Mr.
Waldron, the famous popular lecturer, rose amid a general murmur of applause.
He was a stern, gaunt man, with a harsh voice, and an aggressive manner, bu_e had the merit of knowing how to assimilate the ideas of other men, and t_ass them on in a way which was intelligible and even interesting to the la_ublic, with a happy knack of being funny about the most unlikely objects, s_hat the precession of the Equinox or the formation of a vertebrate became _ighly humorous process as treated by him.
It was a bird's-eye view of creation, as interpreted by science, which, i_anguage always clear and sometimes picturesque, he unfolded before us. H_old us of the globe, a huge mass of flaming gas, flaring through the heavens.
Then he pictured the solidification, the cooling, the wrinkling which forme_he mountains, the steam which turned to water, the slow preparation of th_tage upon which was to be played the inexplicable drama of life. On th_rigin of life itself he was discreetly vague. That the germs of it coul_ardly have survived the original roasting was, he declared, fairly certain.
Therefore it had come later. Had it built itself out of the cooling, inorgani_lements of the globe? Very likely. Had the germs of it arrived from outsid_pon a meteor? It was hardly conceivable. On the whole, the wisest man was th_east dogmatic upon the point. We could not—or at least we had not succeede_p to date in making organic life in our laboratories out of inorgani_aterials. The gulf between the dead and the living was something which ou_hemistry could not as yet bridge. But there was a higher and subtle_hemistry of Nature, which, working with great forces over long epochs, migh_ell produce results which were impossible for us. There the matter must b_eft.
This brought the lecturer to the great ladder of animal life, beginning lo_own in molluscs and feeble sea creatures, then up rung by rung throug_eptiles and fishes, till at last we came to a kangaroo-rat, a creature whic_rought forth its young alive, the direct ancestor of all mammals, an_resumably, therefore, of everyone in the audience. ("No, no," from _ceptical student in the back row.) If the young gentleman in the red tie wh_ried "No, no," and who presumably claimed to have been hatched out of an egg, would wait upon him after the lecture, he would be glad to see such _uriosity. (Laughter.) It was strange to think that the climax of all the age- long process of Nature had been the creation of that gentleman in the red tie.
But had the process stopped? Was this gentleman to be taken as the fina_ype—the be-all and end-all of development? He hoped that he would not hur_he feelings of the gentleman in the red tie if he maintained that, whateve_irtues that gentleman might possess in private life, still the vast processe_f the universe were not fully justified if they were to end entirely in hi_roduction. Evolution was not a spent force, but one still working, and eve_reater achievements were in store.
Having thus, amid a general titter, played very prettily with his interrupter, the lecturer went back to his picture of the past, the drying of the seas, th_mergence of the sand-bank, the sluggish, viscous life which lay upon thei_argins, the overcrowded lagoons, the tendency of the sea creatures to tak_efuge upon the mud-flats, the abundance of food awaiting them, thei_onsequent enormous growth. "Hence, ladies and gentlemen," he added, "tha_rightful brood of saurians which still affright our eyes when seen in th_ealden or in the Solenhofen slates, but which were fortunately extinct lon_efore the first appearance of mankind upon this planet."
"Question!" boomed a voice from the platform.
Mr. Waldron was a strict disciplinarian with a gift of acid humor, a_xemplified upon the gentleman with the red tie, which made it perilous t_nterrupt him. But this interjection appeared to him so absurd that he was a_ loss how to deal with it. So looks the Shakespearean who is confronted by _ancid Baconian, or the astronomer who is assailed by a flat- earth fanatic.
He paused for a moment, and then, raising his voice, repeated slowly th_ords: "Which were extinct before the coming of man."
"Question!" boomed the voice once more.
Waldron looked with amazement along the line of professors upon the platfor_ntil his eyes fell upon the figure of Challenger, who leaned back in hi_hair with closed eyes and an amused expression, as if he were smiling in hi_leep.
"I see!" said Waldron, with a shrug. "It is my friend Professor Challenger,"
and amid laughter he renewed his lecture as if this was a final explanatio_nd no more need be said.
But the incident was far from being closed. Whatever path the lecturer too_mid the wilds of the past seemed invariably to lead him to some assertion a_o extinct or prehistoric life which instantly brought the same bulls' bello_rom the Professor. The audience began to anticipate it and to roar wit_elight when it came. The packed benches of students joined in, and every tim_hallenger's beard opened, before any sound could come forth, there was a yel_f "Question!" from a hundred voices, and an answering counter cry of "Order!"
and "Shame!" from as many more. Waldron, though a hardened lecturer and _trong man, became rattled. He hesitated, stammered, repeated himself, go_narled in a long sentence, and finally turned furiously upon the cause of hi_roubles.
"This is really intolerable!" he cried, glaring across the platform. "I mus_sk you, Professor Challenger, to cease these ignorant and unmannerl_nterruptions."
There was a hush over the hall, the students rigid with delight at seeing th_igh gods on Olympus quarrelling among themselves. Challenger levered hi_ulky figure slowly out of his chair.
"I must in turn ask you, Mr. Waldron," he said, "to cease to make assertion_hich are not in strict accordance with scientific fact."
The words unloosed a tempest. "Shame! Shame!" "Give him a hearing!" "Put hi_ut!" "Shove him off the platform!" "Fair play!" emerged from a general roa_f amusement or execration. The chairman was on his feet flapping both hi_ands and bleating excitedly. "Professor Challenger—personal—views— later,"
were the solid peaks above his clouds of inaudible mutter. The interrupte_owed, smiled, stroked his beard, and relapsed into his chair. Waldron, ver_lushed and warlike, continued his observations. Now and then, as he made a_ssertion, he shot a venomous glance at his opponent, who seemed to b_lumbering deeply, with the same broad, happy smile upon his face.
At last the lecture came to an end—I am inclined to think that it was _remature one, as the peroration was hurried and disconnected. The thread o_he argument had been rudely broken, and the audience was restless an_xpectant. Waldron sat down, and, after a chirrup from the chairman, Professo_hallenger rose and advanced to the edge of the platform. In the interests o_y paper I took down his speech verbatim.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he began, amid a sustained interruption from the back.
"I beg pardon—Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children—I must apologize, I ha_nadvertently omitted a considerable section of this audience" (tumult, durin_hich the Professor stood with one hand raised and his enormous head noddin_ympathetically, as if he were bestowing a pontifical blessing upon th_rowd), "I have been selected to move a vote of thanks to Mr. Waldron for th_ery picturesque and imaginative address to which we have just listened. Ther_re points in it with which I disagree, and it has been my duty to indicat_hem as they arose, but, none the less, Mr. Waldron has accomplished hi_bject well, that object being to give a simple and interesting account o_hat he conceives to have been the history of our planet. Popular lectures ar_he easiest to listen to, but Mr. Waldron" (here he beamed and blinked at th_ecturer) "will excuse me when I say that they are necessarily bot_uperficial and misleading, since they have to be graded to the comprehensio_f an ignorant audience." (Ironical cheering.) "Popular lecturers are in thei_ature parasitic." (Angry gesture of protest from Mr. Waldron.) "They exploi_or fame or cash the work which has been done by their indigent and unknow_rethren. One smallest new fact obtained in the laboratory, one brick buil_nto the temple of science, far outweighs any second-hand exposition whic_asses an idle hour, but can leave no useful result behind it. I put forwar_his obvious reflection, not out of any desire to disparage Mr. Waldron i_articular, but that you may not lose your sense of proportion and mistake th_colyte for the high priest." (At this point Mr. Waldron whispered to th_hairman, who half rose and said something severely to his water-carafe.) "Bu_nough of this!" (Loud and prolonged cheers.) "Let me pass to some subject o_ider interest. What is the particular point upon which I, as an origina_nvestigator, have challenged our lecturer's accuracy? It is upon th_ermanence of certain types of animal life upon the earth. I do not speak upo_his subject as an amateur, nor, I may add, as a popular lecturer, but I spea_s one whose scientific conscience compels him to adhere closely to facts, when I say that Mr. Waldron is very wrong in supposing that because he ha_ever himself seen a so-called prehistoric animal, therefore these creature_o longer exist. They are indeed, as he has said, our ancestors, but they are, if I may use the expression, our contemporary ancestors, who can still b_ound with all their hideous and formidable characteristics if one has but th_nergy and hardihood to seek their haunts. Creatures which were supposed to b_urassic, monsters who would hunt down and devour our largest and fierces_ammals, still exist." (Cries of "Bosh!" "Prove it!" "How do you know?"
"Question!") "How do I know, you ask me? I know because I have visited thei_ecret haunts. I know because I have seen some of them." (Applause, uproar, and a voice, "Liar!") "Am I a liar?" (General hearty and noisy assent.) "Did _ear someone say that I was a liar? Will the person who called me a lia_indly stand up that I may know him?" (A voice, "Here he is, sir!" and a_noffensive little person in spectacles, struggling violently, was held u_mong a group of students.) "Did you venture to call me a liar?" ("No, sir, no!" shouted the accused, and disappeared like a jack-in-the-box.) "If an_erson in this hall dares to doubt my veracity, I shall be glad to have a fe_ords with him after the lecture." ("Liar!") "Who said that?" (Again th_noffensive one plunging desperately, was elevated high into the air.) "If _ome down among you——" (General chorus of "Come, love, come!" whic_nterrupted the proceedings for some moments, while the chairman, standing u_nd waving both his arms, seemed to be conducting the music. The Professor, with his face flushed, his nostrils dilated, and his beard bristling, was no_n a proper Berserk mood.) "Every great discoverer has been met with the sam_ncredulity—the sure brand of a generation of fools. When great facts are lai_efore you, you have not the intuition, the imagination which would help yo_o understand them. You can only throw mud at the men who have risked thei_ives to open new fields to science. You persecute the prophets! Galileo!
Darwin, and I——" (Prolonged cheering and complete interruption.)
All this is from my hurried notes taken at the time, which give little notio_f the absolute chaos to which the assembly had by this time been reduced. S_errific was the uproar that several ladies had already beaten a hurrie_etreat. Grave and reverend seniors seemed to have caught the prevailin_pirit as badly as the students, and I saw white-bearded men rising an_haking their fists at the obdurate Professor. The whole great audienc_eethed and simmered like a boiling pot. The Professor took a step forward an_aised both his hands. There was something so big and arresting and virile i_he man that the clatter and shouting died gradually away before hi_ommanding gesture and his masterful eyes. He seemed to have a definit_essage. They hushed to hear it.
"I will not detain you," he said. "It is not worth it. Truth is truth, and th_oise of a number of foolish young men—and, I fear I must add, of thei_qually foolish seniors—cannot affect the matter. I claim that I have opened _ew field of science. You dispute it." (Cheers.) "Then I put you to the test.
Will you accredit one or more of your own number to go out as you_epresentatives and test my statement in your name?"
Mr. Summerlee, the veteran Professor of Comparative Anatomy, rose among th_udience, a tall, thin, bitter man, with the withered aspect of a theologian.
He wished, he said, to ask Professor Challenger whether the results to whic_e had alluded in his remarks had been obtained during a journey to th_eadwaters of the Amazon made by him two years before.
Professor Challenger answered that they had.
Mr. Summerlee desired to know how it was that Professor Challenger claimed t_ave made discoveries in those regions which had been overlooked by Wallace, Bates, and other previous explorers of established scientific repute.
Professor Challenger answered that Mr. Summerlee appeared to be confusing th_mazon with the Thames; that it was in reality a somewhat larger river; tha_r. Summerlee might be interested to know that with the Orinoco, whic_ommunicated with it, some fifty thousand miles of country were opened up, an_hat in so vast a space it was not impossible for one person to find wha_nother had missed.
Mr. Summerlee declared, with an acid smile, that he fully appreciated th_ifference between the Thames and the Amazon, which lay in the fact that an_ssertion about the former could be tested, while about the latter it coul_ot. He would be obliged if Professor Challenger would give the latitude an_he longitude of the country in which prehistoric animals were to be found.
Professor Challenger replied that he reserved such information for goo_easons of his own, but would be prepared to give it with proper precaution_o a committee chosen from the audience. Would Mr. Summerlee serve on such _ommittee and test his story in person?
Mr. Summerlee: "Yes, I will." (Great cheering.)
Professor Challenger: "Then I guarantee that I will place in your hands suc_aterial as will enable you to find your way. It is only right, however, sinc_r. Summerlee goes to check my statement that I should have one or more wit_im who may check his. I will not disguise from you that there ar_ifficulties and dangers. Mr. Summerlee will need a younger colleague. May _sk for volunteers?"
It is thus that the great crisis of a man's life springs out at him. Could _ave imagined when I entered that hall that I was about to pledge myself to _ilder adventure than had ever come to me in my dreams? But Gladys—was it no_he very opportunity of which she spoke? Gladys would have told me to go. _ad sprung to my feet. I was speaking, and yet I had prepared no words. Tar_enry, my companion, was plucking at my skirts and I heard him whispering,
"Sit down, Malone! Don't make a public ass of yourself." At the same time _as aware that a tall, thin man, with dark gingery hair, a few seats in fron_f me, was also upon his feet. He glared back at me with hard angry eyes, bu_ refused to give way.
"I will go, Mr. Chairman," I kept repeating over and over again.
"Name! Name!" cried the audience.
"My name is Edward Dunn Malone. I am the reporter of the Daily Gazette. _laim to be an absolutely unprejudiced witness."
"What is your name, sir?" the chairman asked of my tall rival.
"I am Lord John Roxton. I have already been up the Amazon, I know all th_round, and have special qualifications for this investigation."
"Lord John Roxton's reputation as a sportsman and a traveler is, of course, world-famous," said the chairman; "at the same time it would certainly be a_ell to have a member of the Press upon such an expedition."
"Then I move," said Professor Challenger, "that both these gentlemen b_lected, as representatives of this meeting, to accompany Professor Summerle_pon his journey to investigate and to report upon the truth of m_tatements."
And so, amid shouting and cheering, our fate was decided, and I found mysel_orne away in the human current which swirled towards the door, with my min_alf stunned by the vast new project which had risen so suddenly before it. A_ emerged from the hall I was conscious for a moment of a rush of laughin_tudents—down the pavement, and of an arm wielding a heavy umbrella, whic_ose and fell in the midst of them. Then, amid a mixture of groans and cheers, Professor Challenger's electric brougham slid from the curb, and I foun_yself walking under the silvery lights of Regent Street, full of thoughts o_ladys and of wonder as to my future.
Suddenly there was a touch at my elbow. I turned, and found myself lookin_nto the humorous, masterful eyes of the tall, thin man who had volunteered t_e my companion on this strange quest.
"Mr. Malone, I understand," said he. "We are to be companions—what? My room_re just over the road, in the Albany. Perhaps you would have the kindness t_pare me half an hour, for there are one or two things that I badly want t_ay to you."