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”Try Your Luck with Professor Challenger”

I always liked McArdle, the crabbed, old, round-backed, red-headed newseditor, and I rather hoped that he liked me. Of course, Beaumont wasthe real boss; but he lived in the rarefied atmosphere of some Olympianheight from which he could distinguish nothing smaller than aninternational crisis or a split in the Cabinet. Sometimes we saw himpassing in lonely majesty to his inner sanctum, with his eyes staringvaguely and his mind hovering over the Balkans or the Persian Gulf. Hewas above and beyond us. But McArdle was his first lieutenant, and itwas he that we knew. The old man nodded as I entered the room, and hepushed his spectacles far up on his bald forehead.

”Well, Mr. Malone, from all I hear, you seem to be doing very well,”said he in his kindly Scotch accent.

I thanked him.

”The colliery explosion was excellent. So was the Southwark fire. Youhave the true descreeptive touch. What did you want to see me about?”

”To ask a favor.”

He looked alarmed, and his eyes shunned mine. ”Tut, tut! What is it?”

”Do you think, Sir, that you could possibly send me on some mission forthe paper? I would do my best to put it through and get you some goodcopy.”

”What sort of meesion had you in your mind, Mr. Malone?”

”Well, Sir, anything that had adventure and danger in it. I reallywould do my very best. The more difficult it was, the better it wouldsuit me.”

”You seem very anxious to lose your life.”

”To justify my life, Sir.”

”Dear me, Mr. Malone, this is very--very exalted. I'm afraid the dayfor this sort of thing is rather past. The expense of the 'specialmeesion' business hardly justifies the result, and, of course, in anycase it would only be an experienced man with a name that would commandpublic confidence who would get such an order. The big blank spaces inthe map are all being filled in, and there's no room for romanceanywhere. Wait a bit, though!” he added, with a sudden smile upon hisface. ”Talking of the blank spaces of the map gives me an idea. Whatabout exposing a fraud--a modern Munchausen--and making himrideeculous? You could show him up as the liar that he is! Eh, man,it would be fine. How does it appeal to you?”

”Anything--anywhere--I care nothing.”

McArdle was plunged in thought for some minutes.

”I wonder whether you could get on friendly--or at least on talkingterms with the fellow,” he said, at last. ”You seem to have a sort ofgenius for establishing relations with people--seempathy, I suppose, oranimal magnetism, or youthful vitality, or something. I am consciousof it myself.”

”You are very good, sir.”

”So why should you not try your luck with Professor Challenger, ofEnmore Park?”

I dare say I looked a little startled.

”Challenger!” I cried. ”Professor Challenger, the famous zoologist!Wasn't he the man who broke the skull of Blundell, of the Telegraph?”

The news editor smiled grimly.

”Do you mind? Didn't you say it was adventures you were after?”

”It is all in the way of business, sir,” I answered.

”Exactly. I don't suppose he can always be so violent as that. I'mthinking that Blundell got him at the wrong moment, maybe, or in thewrong fashion. You may have better luck, or more tact in handling him.There's something in your line there, I am sure, and the Gazette shouldwork it.”

”I really know nothing about him,” said I. ”I only remember his namein connection with the police-court proceedings, for striking Blundell.”

”I have a few notes for your guidance, Mr. Malone. I've had my eye onthe Professor for some little time.” He took a paper from a drawer.”Here is a summary of his record. I give it you briefly:--

”'Challenger, George Edward. Born: Largs, N. B., 1863. Educ.: LargsAcademy; Edinburgh University. British Museum Assistant, 1892.Assistant-Keeper of Comparative Anthropology Department, 1893.Resigned after acrimonious correspondence same year. Winner ofCrayston Medal for Zoological Research. Foreign Member of'--well,quite a lot of things, about two inches of small type--'Societe Belge,American Academy of Sciences, La Plata, etc., etc. Ex-PresidentPalaeontological Society. Section H, British Association'--so on, soon!--'Publications: ”Some Observations Upon a Series of KalmuckSkulls”; ”Outlines of Vertebrate Evolution”; and numerous papers,including ”The underlying fallacy of Weissmannism,” which caused heateddiscussion at the Zoological Congress of Vienna. Recreations: Walking,Alpine climbing. Address: Enmore Park, Kensington, W.'

”There, take it with you. I've nothing more for you to-night.”

I pocketed the slip of paper.

”One moment, sir,” I said, as I realized that it was a pink bald head,and not a red face, which was fronting me. ”I am not very clear yetwhy I am to interview this gentleman. What has he done?”

The face flashed back again.

”Went to South America on a solitary expedeetion two years ago. Cameback last year. Had undoubtedly been to South America, but refused tosay exactly where. Began to tell his adventures in a vague way, butsomebody started to pick holes, and he just shut up like an oyster.Something wonderful happened--or the man's a champion liar, which isthe more probable supposeetion. Had some damaged photographs, said tobe fakes. Got so touchy that he assaults anyone who asks questions,and heaves reporters down the stairs. In my opinion he's just ahomicidal megalomaniac with a turn for science. That's your man, Mr.Malone. Now, off you run, and see what you can make of him. You'rebig enough to look after yourself. Anyway, you are all safe.Employers' Liability Act, you know.”

A grinning red face turned once more into a pink oval, fringed withgingery fluff; the interview was at an end.

I walked across to the Savage Club, but instead of turning into it Ileaned upon the railings of Adelphi Terrace and gazed thoughtfully fora long time at the brown, oily river. I can always think most sanelyand clearly in the open air. I took out the list of ProfessorChallenger's exploits, and I read it over under the electric lamp.Then I had what I can only regard as an inspiration. As a Pressman, Ifelt sure from what I had been told that I could never hope to get intotouch with this cantankerous Professor. But these recriminations,twice mentioned in his skeleton biography, could only mean that he wasa fanatic in science. Was there not an exposed margin there upon whichhe might be accessible? I would try.

I entered the club. It was just after eleven, and the big room wasfairly full, though the rush had not yet set in. I noticed a tall,thin, angular man seated in an arm-chair by the fire. He turned as Idrew my chair up to him. It was the man of all others whom I shouldhave chosen--Tarp Henry, of the staff of Nature, a thin, dry, leatherycreature, who was full, to those who knew him, of kindly humanity. Iplunged instantly into my subject.

”What do you know of Professor Challenger?”

”Challenger?” He gathered his brows in scientific disapproval.”Challenger was the man who came with some cock-and-bull story fromSouth America.”

”What story?”

”Oh, it was rank nonsense about some queer animals he had discovered.I believe he has retracted since. Anyhow, he has suppressed it all.He gave an interview to Reuter's, and there was such a howl that he sawit wouldn't do. It was a discreditable business. There were one ortwo folk who were inclined to take him seriously, but he soon chokedthem off.”


”Well, by his insufferable rudeness and impossible behavior. There waspoor old Wadley, of the Zoological Institute. Wadley sent a message:'The President of the Zoological Institute presents his compliments toProfessor Challenger, and would take it as a personal favor if he woulddo them the honor to come to their next meeting.' The answer wasunprintable.”

”You don't say?”

”Well, a bowdlerized version of it would run: 'Professor Challengerpresents his compliments to the President of the Zoological Institute,and would take it as a personal favor if he would go to the devil.'”

”Good Lord!”

”Yes, I expect that's what old Wadley said. I remember his wail at themeeting, which began: 'In fifty years experience of scientificintercourse----' It quite broke the old man up.”

”Anything more about Challenger?”

”Well, I'm a bacteriologist, you know. I live in anine-hundred-diameter microscope. I can hardly claim to take seriousnotice of anything that I can see with my naked eye. I'm afrontiersman from the extreme edge of the Knowable, and I feel quiteout of place when I leave my study and come into touch with all yougreat, rough, hulking creatures. I'm too detached to talk scandal, andyet at scientific conversaziones I HAVE heard something of Challenger,for he is one of those men whom nobody can ignore. He's as clever asthey make 'em--a full-charged battery of force and vitality, but aquarrelsome, ill-conditioned faddist, and unscrupulous at that. He hadgone the length of faking some photographs over the South Americanbusiness.”

”You say he is a faddist. What is his particular fad?”

”He has a thousand, but the latest is something about Weissmann andEvolution. He had a fearful row about it in Vienna, I believe.”

”Can't you tell me the point?”

”Not at the moment, but a translation of the proceedings exists. Wehave it filed at the office. Would you care to come?”

”It's just what I want. I have to interview the fellow, and I needsome lead up to him. It's really awfully good of you to give me alift. I'll go with you now, if it is not too late.”

Half an hour later I was seated in the newspaper office with a hugetome in front of me, which had been opened at the article ”Weissmannversus Darwin,” with the sub heading, ”Spirited Protest at Vienna.Lively Proceedings.” My scientific education having been somewhatneglected, I was unable to follow the whole argument, but it wasevident that the English Professor had handled his subject in a veryaggressive fashion, and had thoroughly annoyed his Continentalcolleagues. ”Protests,” ”Uproar,” and ”General appeal to the Chairman”were three of the first brackets which caught my eye. Most of thematter might have been written in Chinese for any definite meaning thatit conveyed to my brain.

”I wish you could translate it into English for me,” I said,pathetically, to my help-mate.

”Well, it is a translation.”

”Then I'd better try my luck with the original.”

”It is certainly rather deep for a layman.”

”If I could only get a single good, meaty sentence which seemed toconvey some sort of definite human idea, it would serve my turn. Ah,yes, this one will do. I seem in a vague way almost to understand it.I'll copy it out. This shall be my link with the terrible Professor.”

”Nothing else I can do?”

”Well, yes; I propose to write to him. If I could frame the letterhere, and use your address it would give atmosphere.”

”We'll have the fellow round here making a row and breaking thefurniture.”

”No, no; you'll see the letter--nothing contentious, I assure you.”

”Well, that's my chair and desk. You'll find paper there. I'd like tocensor it before it goes.”

It took some doing, but I flatter myself that it wasn't such a bad jobwhen it was finished. I read it aloud to the critical bacteriologistwith some pride in my handiwork.

”DEAR PROFESSOR CHALLENGER,” it said, ”As a humble student of Nature, Ihave always taken the most profound interest in your speculations as tothe differences between Darwin and Weissmann. I have recently hadoccasion to refresh my memory by re-reading----”

”You infernal liar!” murmured Tarp Henry.

--”by re-reading your masterly address at Vienna. That lucid andadmirable statement seems to be the last word in the matter. There isone sentence in it, however--namely: 'I protest strongly against theinsufferable and entirely dogmatic assertion that each separate id is amicrocosm possessed of an historical architecture elaborated slowlythrough the series of generations.' Have you no desire, in view oflater research, to modify this statement? Do you not think that it isover-accentuated? With your permission, I would ask the favor of aninterview, as I feel strongly upon the subject, and have certainsuggestions which I could only elaborate in a personal conversation.With your consent, I trust to have the honor of calling at eleveno'clock the day after to-morrow (Wednesday) morning.

”I remain, Sir, with assurances of profound respect, yours very truly,


”How's that?” I asked, triumphantly.

”Well if your conscience can stand it----”

”It has never failed me yet.”

”But what do you mean to do?”

”To get there. Once I am in his room I may see some opening. I mayeven go the length of open confession. If he is a sportsman he will betickled.”

”Tickled, indeed! He's much more likely to do the tickling. Chainmail, or an American football suit--that's what you'll want. Well,good-bye. I'll have the answer for you here on Wednesday morning--ifhe ever deigns to answer you. He is a violent, dangerous, cantankerouscharacter, hated by everyone who comes across him, and the butt of thestudents, so far as they dare take a liberty with him. Perhaps itwould be best for you if you never heard from the fellow at all.”