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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.) [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]