The Lost World
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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?"