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The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 5 out of 5

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audience settled down expectantly to give him a hearing.

"`It will be within the recollection of many present,' said
Professor Challenger, `that similar foolish and unmannerly scenes
marked the last meeting at which I have been able to address them.
On that occasion Professor Summerlee was the chief offender, and
though he is now chastened and contrite, the matter could not be
entirely forgotten. I have heard to-night similar, but even more
offensive, sentiments from the person who has just sat down, and
though it is a conscious effort of self-effacement to come down
to that person's mental level, I will endeavor to do so, in order
to allay any reasonable doubt which could possibly exist in the
minds of anyone.' (Laughter and interruption.) `I need not remind
this audience that, though Professor Summerlee, as the head of the
Committee of Investigation, has been put up to speak to-night,
still it is I who am the real prime mover in this business, and
that it is mainly to me that any successful result must be ascribed.
I have safely conducted these three gentlemen to the spot mentioned,
and I have, as you have heard, convinced them of the accuracy of
my previous account. We had hoped that we should find upon our
return that no one was so dense as to dispute our joint conclusions.
Warned, however, by my previous experience, I have not come without
such proofs as may convince a reasonable man. As explained by
Professor Summerlee, our cameras have been tampered with by the ape-
men when they ransacked our camp, and most of our negatives ruined.'
(Jeers, laughter, and `Tell us another!' from the back.) `I have
mentioned the ape-men, and I cannot forbear from saying that some
of the sounds which now meet my ears bring back most vividly to
my recollection my experiences with those interesting creatures.'
(Laughter.) `In spite of the destruction of so many invaluable
negatives, there still remains in our collection a certain number
of corroborative photographs showing the conditions of life upon
the plateau. Did they accuse them of having forged these photographs?'
(A voice, `Yes,' and considerable interruption which ended in
several men being put out of the hall.) `The negatives were open
to the inspection of experts. But what other evidence had they?
Under the conditions of their escape it was naturally impossible
to bring a large amount of baggage, but they had rescued Professor
Summerlee's collections of butterflies and beetles, containing
many new species. Was this not evidence?' (Several voices, `No.')
`Who said no?'

"DR. ILLINGWORTH (rising): `Our point is that such a collection
might have been made in other places than a prehistoric plateau.'

"PROFESSOR CHALLENGER: `No doubt, sir, we have to bow to your
scientific authority, although I must admit that the name
is unfamiliar. Passing, then, both the photographs and the
entomological collection, I come to the varied and accurate
information which we bring with us upon points which have never
before been elucidated. For example, upon the domestic habits of
the pterodactyl--`(A voice: `Bosh,' and uproar)--`I say, that
upon the domestic habits of the pterodactyl we can throw a flood
of light. I can exhibit to you from my portfolio a picture of
that creature taken from life which would convince you----'

"DR. ILLINGWORTH: `No picture could convince us of anything.'

"PROFESSOR CHALLENGER: `You would require to see the thing itself?'

"DR. ILLINGWORTH: `Undoubtedly.'

"PROFESSOR CHALLENGER: `And you would accept that?'

"DR. ILLINGWORTH (laughing): `Beyond a doubt.'

"It was at this point that the sensation of the evening arose--a
sensation so dramatic that it can never have been paralleled in
the history of scientific gatherings. Professor Challenger
raised his hand in the air as a signal, and at once our
colleague, Mr. E. D. Malone, was observed to rise and to make his
way to the back of the platform. An instant later he re-appeared
in company of a gigantic negro, the two of them bearing between
them a large square packing-case. It was evidently of great
weight, and was slowly carried forward and placed in front of
the Professor's chair. All sound had hushed in the audience
and everyone was absorbed in the spectacle before them.
Professor Challenger drew off the top of the case, which formed
a sliding lid. Peering down into the box he snapped his fingers
several times and was heard from the Press seat to say, `Come,
then, pretty, pretty!' in a coaxing voice. An instant later,
with a scratching, rattling sound, a most horrible and loathsome
creature appeared from below and perched itself upon the side of
the case. Even the unexpected fall of the Duke of Durham into
the orchestra, which occurred at this moment, could not distract
the petrified attention of the vast audience. The face of the
creature was like the wildest gargoyle that the imagination of a
mad medieval builder could have conceived. It was malicious,
horrible, with two small red eyes as bright as points of
burning coal. Its long, savage mouth, which was held half-open,
was full of a double row of shark-like teeth. Its shoulders were
humped, and round them were draped what appeared to be a faded
gray shawl. It was the devil of our childhood in person. There was
a turmoil in the audience--someone screamed, two ladies in the
front row fell senseless from their chairs, and there was a
general movement upon the platform to follow their chairman into
the orchestra. For a moment there was danger of a general panic.
Professor Challenger threw up his hands to still the commotion,
but the movement alarmed the creature beside him. Its strange
shawl suddenly unfurled, spread, and fluttered as a pair of
leathery wings. Its owner grabbed at its legs, but too late to
hold it. It had sprung from the perch and was circling slowly
round the Queen's Hall with a dry, leathery flapping of its
ten-foot wings, while a putrid and insidious odor pervaded
the room. The cries of the people in the galleries, who were
alarmed at the near approach of those glowing eyes and that
murderous beak, excited the creature to a frenzy. Faster and
faster it flew, beating against walls and chandeliers in a blind
frenzy of alarm. `The window! For heaven's sake shut that window!'
roared the Professor from the platform, dancing and wringing his
hands in an agony of apprehension. Alas, his warning was too late!
In a moment the creature, beating and bumping along the wall like a
huge moth within a gas-shade, came upon the opening, squeezed its
hideous bulk through it, and was gone. Professor Challenger fell
back into his chair with his face buried in his hands, while the
audience gave one long, deep sigh of relief as they realized that
the incident was over.

"Then--oh! how shall one describe what took place then--when the
full exuberance of the majority and the full reaction of the
minority united to make one great wave of enthusiasm, which
rolled from the back of the hall, gathering volume as it came,
swept over the orchestra, submerged the platform, and carried the
four heroes away upon its crest?" (Good for you, Mac!) "If the
audience had done less than justice, surely it made ample amends.
Every one was on his feet. Every one was moving, shouting,
gesticulating. A dense crowd of cheering men were round the four
travelers. `Up with them! up with them!' cried a hundred voices.
In a moment four figures shot up above the crowd. In vain they
strove to break loose. They were held in their lofty places
of honor. It would have been hard to let them down if it had
been wished, so dense was the crowd around them. `Regent Street!
Regent Street!' sounded the voices. There was a swirl in the
packed multitude, and a slow current, bearing the four upon their
shoulders, made for the door. Out in the street the scene was
extraordinary. An assemblage of not less than a hundred thousand
people was waiting. The close-packed throng extended from the
other side of the Langham Hotel to Oxford Circus. A roar of
acclamation greeted the four adventurers as they appeared, high
above the heads of the people, under the vivid electric lamps
outside the hall. `A procession! A procession!' was the cry.
In a dense phalanx, blocking the streets from side to side, the
crowd set forth, taking the route of Regent Street, Pall Mall,
St. James's Street, and Piccadilly. The whole central traffic
of London was held up, and many collisions were reported between
the demonstrators upon the one side and the police and taxi-cabmen
upon the other. Finally, it was not until after midnight that
the four travelers were released at the entrance to Lord John
Roxton's chambers in the Albany, and that the exuberant crowd,
having sung `They are Jolly Good Fellows' in chorus, concluded
their program with `God Save the King.' So ended one of the most
remarkable evenings that London has seen for a considerable time."

So far my friend Macdona; and it may be taken as a fairly
accurate, if florid, account of the proceedings. As to the main
incident, it was a bewildering surprise to the audience, but not,
I need hardly say, to us. The reader will remember how I met
Lord John Roxton upon the very occasion when, in his protective
crinoline, he had gone to bring the "Devil's chick" as he called
it, for Professor Challenger. I have hinted also at the trouble
which the Professor's baggage gave us when we left the plateau,
and had I described our voyage I might have said a good deal of
the worry we had to coax with putrid fish the appetite of our
filthy companion. If I have not said much about it before, it
was, of course, that the Professor's earnest desire was that no
possible rumor of the unanswerable argument which we carried
should be allowed to leak out until the moment came when his
enemies were to be confuted.

One word as to the fate of the London pterodactyl. Nothing can
be said to be certain upon this point. There is the evidence of
two frightened women that it perched upon the roof of the Queen's
Hall and remained there like a diabolical statue for some hours.
The next day it came out in the evening papers that Private
Miles, of the Coldstream Guards, on duty outside Marlborough
House, had deserted his post without leave, and was therefore
courtmartialed. Private Miles' account, that he dropped his
rifle and took to his heels down the Mall because on looking up
he had suddenly seen the devil between him and the moon, was not
accepted by the Court, and yet it may have a direct bearing upon
the point at issue. The only other evidence which I can adduce
is from the log of the SS. Friesland, a Dutch-American liner,
which asserts that at nine next morning, Start Point being at the
time ten miles upon their starboard quarter, they were passed by
something between a flying goat and a monstrous bat, which was
heading at a prodigious pace south and west. If its homing
instinct led it upon the right line, there can be no doubt that
somewhere out in the wastes of the Atlantic the last European
pterodactyl found its end.

And Gladys--oh, my Gladys!--Gladys of the mystic lake, now to be
re-named the Central, for never shall she have immortality
through me. Did I not always see some hard fiber in her nature?
Did I not, even at the time when I was proud to obey her behest,
feel that it was surely a poor love which could drive a lover to
his death or the danger of it? Did I not, in my truest thoughts,
always recurring and always dismissed, see past the beauty of the
face, and, peering into the soul, discern the twin shadows of
selfishness and of fickleness glooming at the back of it? Did she
love the heroic and the spectacular for its own noble sake, or
was it for the glory which might, without effort or sacrifice, be
reflected upon herself? Or are these thoughts the vain wisdom
which comes after the event? It was the shock of my life. For a
moment it had turned me to a cynic. But already, as I write, a
week has passed, and we have had our momentous interview with
Lord John Roxton and--well, perhaps things might be worse.

Let me tell it in a few words. No letter or telegram had come to
me at Southampton, and I reached the little villa at Streatham
about ten o'clock that night in a fever of alarm. Was she dead
or alive? Where were all my nightly dreams of the open arms, the
smiling face, the words of praise for her man who had risked his
life to humor her whim? Already I was down from the high peaks
and standing flat-footed upon earth. Yet some good reasons given
might still lift me to the clouds once more. I rushed down the
garden path, hammered at the door, heard the voice of Gladys
within, pushed past the staring maid, and strode into the
sitting-room. She was seated in a low settee under the shaded
standard lamp by the piano. In three steps I was across the room
and had both her hands in mine.

"Gladys!" I cried, "Gladys!"

She looked up with amazement in her face. She was altered in some
subtle way. The expression of her eyes, the hard upward stare,
the set of the lips, was new to me. She drew back her hands.

"What do you mean?" she said.

"Gladys!" I cried. "What is the matter? You are my Gladys, are
you not--little Gladys Hungerton?"

"No," said she, "I am Gladys Potts. Let me introduce you to
my husband."

How absurd life is! I found myself mechanically bowing and
shaking hands with a little ginger-haired man who was coiled up
in the deep arm-chair which had once been sacred to my own use.
We bobbed and grinned in front of each other.

"Father lets us stay here. We are getting our house ready,"
said Gladys.

"Oh, yes," said I.

"You didn't get my letter at Para, then?"

"No, I got no letter."

"Oh, what a pity! It would have made all clear."

"It is quite clear," said I.

"I've told William all about you," said she. "We have no secrets.
I am so sorry about it. But it couldn't have been so very deep,
could it, if you could go off to the other end of the world and
leave me here alone. You're not crabby, are you?"

"No, no, not at all. I think I'll go."

"Have some refreshment," said the little man, and he added, in a
confidential way, "It's always like this, ain't it? And must be
unless you had polygamy, only the other way round; you understand."
He laughed like an idiot, while I made for the door.

I was through it, when a sudden fantastic impulse came upon me,
and I went back to my successful rival, who looked nervously at
the electric push.

"Will you answer a question?" I asked.

"Well, within reason," said he.

"How did you do it? Have you searched for hidden treasure, or
discovered a pole, or done time on a pirate, or flown the
Channel, or what? Where is the glamour of romance? How did you
get it?"

He stared at me with a hopeless expression upon his vacuous,
good-natured, scrubby little face.

"Don't you think all this is a little too personal?" he said.

"Well, just one question," I cried. "What are you? What is
your profession?"

"I am a solicitor's clerk," said he. "Second man at Johnson and
Merivale's, 41 Chancery Lane."

"Good-night!" said I, and vanished, like all disconsolate and
broken-hearted heroes, into the darkness, with grief and rage
and laughter all simmering within me like a boiling pot.

One more little scene, and I have done. Last night we all supped
at Lord John Roxton's rooms, and sitting together afterwards we
smoked in good comradeship and talked our adventures over. It was
strange under these altered surroundings to see the old, well-known
faces and figures. There was Challenger, with his smile of
condescension, his drooping eyelids, his intolerant eyes, his
aggressive beard, his huge chest, swelling and puffing as he laid
down the law to Summerlee. And Summerlee, too, there he was with
his short briar between his thin moustache and his gray goat's-
beard, his worn face protruded in eager debate as he queried all
Challenger's propositions. Finally, there was our host, with his
rugged, eagle face, and his cold, blue, glacier eyes with always
a shimmer of devilment and of humor down in the depths of them.
Such is the last picture of them that I have carried away.

It was after supper, in his own sanctum--the room of the pink
radiance and the innumerable trophies--that Lord John Roxton had
something to say to us. From a cupboard he had brought an old
cigar-box, and this he laid before him on the table.

"There's one thing," said he, "that maybe I should have spoken
about before this, but I wanted to know a little more clearly
where I was. No use to raise hopes and let them down again.
But it's facts, not hopes, with us now. You may remember that day
we found the pterodactyl rookery in the swamp--what? Well, somethin'
in the lie of the land took my notice. Perhaps it has escaped you,
so I will tell you. It was a volcanic vent full of blue clay."
The Professors nodded.

"Well, now, in the whole world I've only had to do with one place
that was a volcanic vent of blue clay. That was the great De
Beers Diamond Mine of Kimberley--what? So you see I got diamonds
into my head. I rigged up a contraption to hold off those
stinking beasts, and I spent a happy day there with a spud.
This is what I got."

He opened his cigar-box, and tilting it over he poured about
twenty or thirty rough stones, varying from the size of beans to
that of chestnuts, on the table.

"Perhaps you think I should have told you then. Well, so I
should, only I know there are a lot of traps for the unwary, and
that stones may be of any size and yet of little value where
color and consistency are clean off. Therefore, I brought them
back, and on the first day at home I took one round to Spink's,
and asked him to have it roughly cut and valued."

He took a pill-box from his pocket, and spilled out of it a
beautiful glittering diamond, one of the finest stones that I
have ever seen.

"There's the result," said he. "He prices the lot at a minimum
of two hundred thousand pounds. Of course it is fair shares
between us. I won't hear of anythin' else. Well, Challenger,
what will you do with your fifty thousand?"

"If you really persist in your generous view," said the
Professor, "I should found a private museum, which has long been
one of my dreams."

"And you, Summerlee?"

"I would retire from teaching, and so find time for my final
classification of the chalk fossils."

"I'll use my own," said Lord John Roxton, "in fitting a
well-formed expedition and having another look at the dear
old plateau. As to you, young fellah, you, of course, will
spend yours in gettin' married."

"Not just yet," said I, with a rueful smile. "I think, if you
will have me, that I would rather go with you."

Lord Roxton said nothing, but a brown hand was stretched out to
me across the table.

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