Книга The Land Of Mist. Содержание - 14. In Which Challenger Meets a Strange Colleague

Challenger stroked his beard and his eyelids drooped dangerously over his eyes.

«My perceptions,» said he, «are not so dull that I should have failed to observe the relations which have been established between my daughter and yourself. This question however, has become entangled with the other which we were discussing. You have both, I fear, imbibed this poisonous fallacy which I am more and more inclined to devote my life to extirpating. If only on the ground of eugenics, I could not give my sanction to a union which was built up on such a foundation, I must ask you, therefore, for a definite assurance that your views have become more sane. I shall ask the same from her.»

And so Malone suddenly found himself also enrolled among the noble army of martyrs. It was a hard dilemma, but he faced it like the man that he was.

«I am sure, sir, that you would not think the better of me if I allowed my views as to truth, whether they be right or wrong, to be swayed by material considerations. I cannot change my opinions even to win Enid. I am sure that she would take the same view.»

«Did you not think I had the better last night?»

«I thought your address was very eloquent.»

«Did I not convince you?»

«Not in the face of the evidence of my own senses.»

«Any conjuror could deceive your senses «

«I fear, sir, that my mind is made up on this point.»

«Then my mind is made up also,» roared Challenger, with a sudden glare. «You will leave this house, sir, and you will return when you have regained your sanity.»

«One moment!» said Malone. «I beg, sir, that you will not be precipitate. I value your friendship too much to risk the loss of it if it can, in any way, be avoided. Possibly if I had your guidance I would better understand these things that puzzle me. If I should be able to arrange it would you mind being present personally at one of these demonstrations so that your own trained powers of observation may throw a light upon the things that have puzzled me.»

Challenger was enormously open to flattery. He plumed and preened himself now like some great bird.

«If, my dear Malone, I can help you to get this taint – what shall we call it? – microbus spiritualensis – out of your system, I am at your service. I shall be happy to devote a little of my spare time to exposing those specious fallacies to which you have fallen so easy a victim. I would not say that you are entirely devoid of brains, but that your good nature is liable to be imposed upon. I warn you that I shall be an exacting inquirer and bring to the investigation those laboratory methods of which it is generally admitted that I am a master.»

«That is what I desire.»

«Then you will prepare the occasion and I shall be there. But meanwhile you will clearly understand that I insist upon a promise that this connection with my daughter shall go no further.»

Malone hesitated.

«I give my promise for six months,» he said at last.

«And what will you do at the end of that time?»

«I will decide when the time comes,» Malone answered diplomatically, and so escaped from a dangerous situation with more credit than at one time seemed probable.

It chanced that, as he emerged upon the landing, Enid who had been engaged in her morning's shopping, appeared in the lift. Malone's easy Irish conscience allowed him to think that the six months need not start on the instant, so he persuaded Enid to descend in the lift with him. It was one of those lifts which are handled by whoever uses them, and on this occasion it so happened that, in some way best known to Malone, it stuck between the landing stages, and in spite of several impatient rings it remained stuck for a good quarter of an hour. When the machinery resumed its functions, and when Enid was able at last to reach her home and Malone the street, the lovers had prepared themselves to wait for six months with every hope of a successful end to their experiment.

14. In Which Challenger Meets a Strange Colleague

PROFESSOR CHALLENGER was not a man who made friends easily. In order to be his friend you had also to be his dependant. He did not admit of equals. But as a patron he was superb. With his Jovian air, his colossal condescension, his amused smile, his general suggestion of the god descending to the mortal, he could be quite overpowering in his amiability. But he needed certain qualities in return. Stupidity disgusted him. Physical ugliness alienated him. Independence repulsed him. He coveted the man whom all the world would admire, but who in turn would admire the superman above him. Such a man was Dr. Ross Scotton, and for this reason he hat been Challenger's favourite pupil.

And now he was sick unto death. Dr. Atkinson of St. Mary's who had already played some minor part in this record, was attending him, and his reports were increasingly depressing. The illness was that dread disease disseminated sclerosis, and Challenger was aware that Atkinson was no alarmist when he said that a cure was a most remote and unlikely possibility. It seemed a terrible instance of the unreasonable nature of things that a young man of science, capable before he reached his prime of two such works as The Embryology of the Symibathetic Nervous System or The Fallacy of the Obsonic Index, should be dissolved into his chemical elements with no personal or spiritual residue whatever. And yet the Professor shrugged his huge shoulders, shook his massive head, and accepted the inevitable. Every fresh message was worse than the last, and, finally, there was an ominous silence. Challenger went down once to his young friend's lodging in Gower Street. It was a racking experience, and he did not repeat it. The muscular cramps which are characteristic of the complaint were tying the sufferer into knots, and he was biting his lips to shut down the screams which might have relieved his agony at the expense of his manhood. He seized his mentor by the hand as a drowning man seizes a plank.

«Is it really as you have said? Is there no hope beyond the six months of torture which I see lying before me? Can you with all your wisdom and knowledge see no spark of light or life in the dark shadow of eternal dissolution?»

«Face it, my boy, face it!» said Challenger. «Better to look fact in the face than to console oneself with fancies.»

Then the lips parted and the long-pent scream burst forth. Challenger rose and rushed from the room.

But now an amazing development occurred. It began by the appearance of Miss Delicia Freeman.

One morning there came a knock at the door of the Victoria flat. The austere and taciturn Austin looking out at the level of his eyes perceived nothing at all. On glancing downwards, however, he was aware of a small lady, whose delicate face and bright bird-like eyes were turned upwards to his own.

«I want to see the Professor,» said she, diving into her handbag for a card.

«Can't see you,» said Austin.

«Oh, yes, he can,» the small lady answered serenely. There was not a newspaper office, a statesman's sanctum, or a political chancellory which had ever presented a barrier strong enough to hold her back where she believed that there was good work to be done.

«Can't see you,» repeated Austin.

«Oh, but really I must, you know,» said Miss Freeman, and made a sudden dive past the butler. With unerring instinct she made for the door of the sacred study, knocked, and forthwith entered.

The lion head looked up from behind a desk littered with papers. The lion eyes glared.

«What is the meaning of this intrusion?» the lion roared. The small lady was, however, entirely unabashed. She smiled sweetly at the glowering face.

«I am so glad to make your acquaintance,» she said. «My name is Delicia Freeman.»

«Austin!» shouted the Professor. The butler's impassive face appeared round the angle of the door. «What is this, Austin. How did this person get here?»

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