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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lost World - Chapter V - "Question!"
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The Lost World - Chapter V - 'Question!' Post by :studentbee Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Conan Doyle Date :December 2010 Read :1492

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The Lost World - Chapter V - "Question!"

What with the physical shocks incidental to my first interview
with Professor Challenger and the mental ones which accompanied
the second, I was a somewhat demoralized journalist by the time I
found myself in Enmore Park once more. In my aching head the one
thought was throbbing that there really was truth in this man's
story, that it was of tremendous consequence, and that it would
work up into inconceivable copy for the Gazette when I could
obtain permission to use it. A taxicab was waiting at the end of
the road, so I sprang into it and 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 of him--nothing for publication."

"I'm not so sure about that. You got a black eye out of him,
and that's for publication. We can't have this reign of terror,
Mr. Malone. We must bring the man to his bearings. I'll have a
leaderette on him to-morrow that will raise a blister. Just give
me the material and I will engage to brand the fellow for ever.
Professor Munchausen--how's that for an inset headline? Sir John
Mandeville redivivus--Cagliostro--all the imposters and bullies
in history. I'll show him up for the fraud he is."

"I wouldn't do that, sir."

"Why not?"

"Because he is not a fraud at all."

"What!" roared McArdle. "You don't mean to say you really
believe this stuff of 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 that kind. 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 that I didn't." I condensed into a few sentences the
Professor's narrative. "That's how 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 will want to report it, for Waldron has
been reported already a dozen times, and no one 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'll keep space up to midnight."

My day was a busy one, and I had an early dinner at the Savage
Club with Tarp Henry, to whom I gave some account of my adventures.
He listened with a sceptical smile on his gaunt face, and roared
with laughter on hearing that the Professor had convinced me.

"My dear chap, things don't happen like that in real life.
People don't stumble upon enormous discoveries and then lose
their evidence. Leave that to the 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."

"Challenger's 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 a bird."

"A pterodactyl."

"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 you are clever and know your business you
can fake a bone as easily as you can a photograph."

I began to feel uneasy. Perhaps, after all, I had been premature
in my acquiescence. 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 people have accounts to settle with him. I should say he
is about the best-hated man in London. If the medical students
turn out there will be no end of a rag. I don'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 had expected. A line of electric broughams discharged
their little cargoes of white-bearded professors, while the dark
stream of humbler pedestrians, who crowded through the arched
door-way, showed that the audience would be popular as well
as scientific. Indeed, it became evident to us as soon as we had
taken our seats that a youthful and even boyish spirit was abroad
in the gallery and the back portions of the hall. Looking behind
me, I could see rows of faces of the familiar medical student type.
Apparently the great hospitals had each sent down their contingent.
The behavior of the audience at present was good-humored,
but mischievous. Scraps of popular songs were chorused with
an enthusiasm which was a strange prelude to a scientific lecture,
and there was already a tendency to personal chaff which promised
a jovial evening to others, however embarrassing it might be to
the recipients of these dubious honors.

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 you get that tile?" that he hurriedly removed
it, and concealed it furtively under his chair. When gouty
Professor Wadley limped down to his seat there were general
affectionate inquiries from all parts of the hall as to the exact
state of his poor toe, which caused him obvious embarrassment.
The greatest demonstration of all, however, was at the entrance
of my new acquaintance, Professor Challenger, when he passed down to
take his place at the extreme end of the front row of the platform.
Such a yell of welcome broke forth when his black beard first
protruded round the corner that I began to suspect Tarp Henry
was right in his surmise, and that this assemblage was there not
merely for the sake of the lecture, but because it had got rumored
abroad that the famous Professor would take part in the proceedings.

There was some sympathetic laughter on his entrance among the
front benches of well-dressed spectators, as though the
demonstration of the students in this instance was not unwelcome
to them. That greeting was, indeed, a frightful outburst of
sound, the uproar of the carnivora cage when the step of the
bucket-bearing keeper is heard in the distance. There was an
offensive tone in it, perhaps, and yet in the main it struck me
as mere riotous outcry, the noisy reception of one who amused and
interested them, rather than of one they disliked or despised.
Challenger smiled with weary and tolerant contempt, as a kindly
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 looked with 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 common fault of most Englishmen of being inaudible. Why on
earth people who have something to say which is worth hearing
should not take the slight trouble to learn 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 the
spring to the reservoir through a non-conducting pipe, which
could by the least effort be opened. Professor Murray made
several profound remarks to his white tie and to the water-carafe
upon the table, with a humorous, twinkling aside 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, but he had the merit of knowing how to assimilate the
ideas of other men, and to pass them on in a way which was
intelligible and even interesting to the lay public, with a
happy knack of being funny about the most unlikely objects,
so that the precession of the Equinox or the formation of a
vertebrate became a highly humorous process as treated by him.

It was a bird's-eye view of creation, as interpreted by science,
which, in language always clear and sometimes picturesque, he
unfolded before us. He told us of the globe, a huge mass of
flaming gas, flaring through the heavens. Then he pictured the
solidification, the cooling, the wrinkling which formed the
mountains, the steam which turned to water, the slow preparation
of the stage upon which was to be played the inexplicable drama
of life. On the origin of life itself he was discreetly vague.
That the germs of it could hardly have survived the original
roasting was, he declared, fairly certain. Therefore it had
come later. Had it built itself out of the cooling, inorganic
elements of the globe? Very likely. Had the germs of it arrived
from outside upon a meteor? It was hardly conceivable. On the
whole, the wisest man was the least dogmatic upon the point.
We could not--or at least we had not succeeded up to date in
making organic life in our laboratories out of inorganic materials.
The gulf between the dead and the living was something which our
chemistry could not as yet bridge. But there was a higher and
subtler chemistry of Nature, which, working with great forces
over long epochs, might well produce results which were impossible
for us. There the matter must be left.

This brought the lecturer to the great ladder of animal life,
beginning low down in molluscs and feeble sea creatures, then up
rung by rung through reptiles and fishes, till at last we came to
a kangaroo-rat, a creature which brought forth its young alive,
the direct ancestor of all mammals, and presumably, therefore, of
everyone in the audience. ("No, no," from a sceptical student in
the back row.) If the young gentleman in the red tie who cried
"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 a curiosity. (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 final type--the be-all and
end-all of development? He hoped that he would not hurt the
feelings of the gentleman in the red tie if he maintained that,
whatever virtues that gentleman might possess in private life,
still the vast processes of the universe were not fully justified
if they were to end entirely in his production. Evolution was
not a spent force, but one still working, and even greater
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, the emergence of the sand-bank, the
sluggish, viscous life which lay upon their margins, the
overcrowded lagoons, the tendency of the sea creatures to take
refuge upon the mud-flats, the abundance of food awaiting them,
their consequent enormous growth. "Hence, ladies and gentlemen,"
he added, "that frightful brood of saurians which still affright
our eyes when seen in the Wealden or in the Solenhofen slates,
but which were fortunately extinct long before 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, as exemplified upon the gentleman with the red tie, which
made it perilous to interrupt him. But this interjection
appeared to him so absurd that he was at a loss how to deal
with it. So looks the Shakespearean who is confronted by a
rancid Baconian, or the astronomer who is assailed by a flat-
earth fanatic. He paused for a moment, and then, raising his
voice, repeated slowly the words: "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 platform until his eyes fell upon the figure of Challenger,
who leaned back in his chair with closed eyes and an amused
expression, as if he were smiling in his sleep.

"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 explanation and no more need be said.

But the incident was far from being closed. Whatever path the
lecturer took amid the wilds of the past seemed invariably to
lead him to some assertion as to extinct or prehistoric life
which instantly brought the same bulls' bellow from the Professor.
The audience began to anticipate it and to roar with delight when
it came. The packed benches of students joined in, and every
time Challenger's beard opened, before any sound could come forth,
there was a yell of "Question!" from a hundred voices, and an
answering counter cry of "Order!" and "Shame!" from as many more.
Waldron, though a hardened lecturer and a strong man, became rattled.
He hesitated, stammered, repeated himself, got snarled in a long
sentence, and finally turned furiously upon the cause of his troubles.

"This is really intolerable!" he cried, glaring across the platform.
"I must ask you, Professor Challenger, to cease these ignorant and
unmannerly interruptions."

There was a hush over the hall, the students rigid with delight
at seeing the high gods on Olympus quarrelling among themselves.
Challenger levered his bulky figure slowly out of his chair.

"I must in turn ask you, Mr. Waldron," he said, "to cease to make
assertions which are not in strict accordance with scientific fact."

The words unloosed a tempest. "Shame! Shame!" "Give him a
hearing!" "Put him out!" "Shove him off the platform!" "Fair
play!" emerged from a general roar of amusement or execration.
The chairman was on his feet flapping both his hands and
bleating excitedly. "Professor Challenger--personal--views--
later," were the solid peaks above his clouds of inaudible mutter.
The interrupter bowed, smiled, stroked his beard, and relapsed
into his chair. Waldron, very flushed and warlike, continued
his observations. Now and then, as he made an assertion, he shot
a venomous glance at his opponent, who seemed to be slumbering
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 a premature one, as the peroration was hurried
and disconnected. The thread of the argument had been rudely
broken, and the audience was restless and expectant. Waldron sat
down, and, after a chirrup from the chairman, Professor Challenger
rose and advanced to the edge of the platform. In the interests
of my 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 had inadvertently omitted a considerable
section of this audience" (tumult, during which the Professor
stood with one hand raised and his enormous head nodding
sympathetically, as if he were bestowing a pontifical blessing
upon the crowd), "I have been selected to move a vote of thanks
to Mr. Waldron for the very picturesque and imaginative address
to which we have just listened. There are points in it with
which I disagree, and it has been my duty to indicate them as
they arose, but, none the less, Mr. Waldron has accomplished his
object well, that object being to give a simple and interesting
account of what he conceives to have been the history of our planet.
Popular lectures are the easiest to listen to, but Mr. Waldron"
(here he beamed and blinked at the lecturer) "will excuse me when
I say that they are necessarily both superficial and misleading,
since they have to be graded to the comprehension of an
ignorant audience." (Ironical cheering.) "Popular lecturers
are in their nature parasitic." (Angry gesture of protest from
Mr. Waldron.) "They exploit for fame or cash the work which has
been done by their indigent and unknown brethren. One smallest
new fact obtained in the laboratory, one brick built into the
temple of science, far outweighs any second-hand exposition which
passes an idle hour, but can leave no useful result behind it.
I put forward this obvious reflection, not out of any desire to
disparage Mr. Waldron in particular, but that you may not lose
your sense of proportion and mistake the acolyte for the high priest."
(At this point Mr. Waldron whispered to the chairman, who half rose
and said something severely to his water-carafe.) "But enough
of this!" (Loud and prolonged cheers.) "Let me pass to some
subject of wider interest. What is the particular point upon
which I, as an original investigator, have challenged our
lecturer's accuracy? It is upon the permanence of certain types
of animal life upon the earth. I do not speak upon this subject
as an amateur, nor, I may add, as a popular lecturer, but I speak
as 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 has never himself seen a so-called prehistoric
animal, therefore these creatures no 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 be
found with all their hideous and formidable characteristics if
one has but the energy and hardihood to seek their haunts.
Creatures which were supposed to be Jurassic, monsters who would
hunt down and devour our largest and fiercest mammals, 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 their
secret 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 I hear someone say that I
was a liar? Will the person who called me a liar kindly stand up
that I may know him?" (A voice, "Here he is, sir!" and an
inoffensive little person in spectacles, struggling violently,
was held up among 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 any person in this hall dares to
doubt my veracity, I shall be glad to have a few words with him
after the lecture." ("Liar!") "Who said that?" (Again the
inoffensive one plunging desperately, was elevated high into the air.)
"If I come down among you----" (General chorus of "Come, love, come!"
which interrupted the proceedings for some moments, while the
chairman, standing up and waving both his arms, seemed to be
conducting the music. The Professor, with his face flushed,
his nostrils dilated, and his beard bristling, was now in a
proper Berserk mood.) "Every great discoverer has been met with
the same incredulity--the sure brand of a generation of fools.
When great facts are laid before you, you have not the intuition,
the imagination which would help you to understand them. You can
only throw mud at the men who have risked their lives 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 notion of the absolute chaos to which the assembly had by
this time been reduced. So terrific was the uproar that several
ladies had already beaten a hurried retreat. Grave and reverend
seniors seemed to have caught the prevailing spirit as badly as
the students, and I saw white-bearded men rising and shaking
their fists at the obdurate Professor. The whole great audience
seethed and simmered like a boiling pot. The Professor took a
step forward and raised both his hands. There was something so
big and arresting and virile in the man that the clatter and
shouting died gradually away before his commanding gesture and
his masterful eyes. He seemed to have a definite message.
They hushed to hear it.

"I will not detain you," he said. "It is not worth it. Truth is
truth, and the noise of a number of foolish young men--and, I
fear I must add, of their equally foolish seniors--cannot affect
the matter. I claim that I have opened a new 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 your
representatives and test my statement in your name?"

Mr. Summerlee, the veteran Professor of Comparative Anatomy, rose
among the audience, a tall, thin, bitter man, with the withered
aspect of a theologian. He wished, he said, to ask Professor
Challenger whether the results to which he had alluded in his
remarks had been obtained during a journey to the headwaters 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 to have 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 the Amazon with the Thames; that it was in reality a
somewhat larger river; that Mr. Summerlee might be interested to
know that with the Orinoco, which communicated with it, some
fifty thousand miles of country were opened up, and that in so
vast a space it was not impossible for one person to find what
another had missed.

Mr. Summerlee declared, with an acid smile, that he fully
appreciated the difference between the Thames and the Amazon,
which lay in the fact that any assertion about the former could be
tested, while about the latter it could not. He would be obliged
if Professor Challenger would give the latitude and the longitude
of the country in which prehistoric animals were to be found.

Professor Challenger replied that he reserved such information
for good reasons of his own, but would be prepared to give it
with proper precautions to a committee chosen from the audience.
Would Mr. Summerlee serve on such a committee 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 such material as will enable you to find your way.
It is only right, however, since Mr. Summerlee goes to check my
statement that I should have one or more with him who may check his.
I will not disguise from you that there are difficulties and dangers.
Mr. Summerlee will need a younger colleague. May I ask for volunteers?"

It is thus that the great crisis of a man's life springs out at him.
Could I have imagined when I entered that hall that I was about to
pledge myself to a wilder adventure than had ever come to me in
my dreams? But Gladys--was it not the very opportunity of which
she spoke? Gladys would have told me to go. I had sprung to my feet.
I was speaking, and yet I had prepared no words. Tarp Henry, 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 I was aware that a tall, thin man, with dark gingery hair,
a few seats in front of me, was also upon his feet. He glared back
at me with hard angry eyes, but I 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. I claim 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 the ground, 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 as well to have a member of the Press upon
such an expedition."

"Then I move," said Professor Challenger, "that both these
gentlemen be elected, as representatives of this meeting, to
accompany Professor Summerlee upon his journey to investigate and
to report upon the truth of my statements."

And so, amid shouting and cheering, our fate was decided, and I
found myself borne away in the human current which swirled
towards the door, with my mind half stunned by the vast new
project which had risen so suddenly before it. As I emerged from
the hall I was conscious for a moment of a rush of laughing
students--down the pavement, and of an arm wielding a heavy
umbrella, which rose 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 found myself walking under the
silvery lights of Regent Street, full of thoughts of Gladys and
of wonder as to my future.

Suddenly there was a touch at my elbow. I turned, and found
myself looking into the humorous, masterful eyes of the tall, thin
man who had volunteered to be my companion on this strange quest.

"Mr. Malone, I understand," said he. "We are to be
companions--what? My rooms are just over the road, in the Albany.
Perhaps you would have the kindness to spare me half an hour, for
there are one or two things that I badly want to say to you."

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