Is it so?'
'May I ask whether you represent the British Government?'
'Not at all. I am a correspondent of the Gazette, and this is Professor Challenger.'
'An honoured name -- a European name.' His yellow fangs gleamed in obsequious amiability. 'I was about to say that the British Government has lost its chance. What else it has lost it may find out later. Possibly its Empire as well. I was prepared to sell to the first Government which gave me its price, and if it has now fallen into hands of which you may disapprove, you have only yourselves to blame.'
'Then you have sold your secret?'
'At my own price.'
'You think the purchaser will have a monopoly?'
'Undoubtedly he will.'
'But others know the secret as well as you.'
'No, sir.' He touched his great forehead.
'This is the safe in which the secret is securely locked -- a better safe than any of steel, and secured by something better than a Yale key. Some may know one side of the matter: others may know another. No one in the world knows the whole matter save only I.'
'And these gentlemen to whom you have sold it.'
'No, sir; I am not so foolish as to hand over the knowledge until the price is paid. After that it is I whom they buy, and they move this safe' he again tapped his brow 'with all its contents to whatever point they desire. My part of the bargain will then be done -- faithfully, ruthlessly done. After that, history will be made.' He rubbed his hands together and the fixed smile upon his face twisted itself into something like a snarl.
'You will excuse me, sir,' boomed Challenger, who had sat in silence up to now, but whose expressive face registered most complete disapproval of Theodore Nemor, 'we should wish before we discuss the matter to convince ourselves that there is something to discuss. We have not forgotten a recent case where an Italian, who proposed to explode mines from a distance, proved upon investigation to be an arrant impostor. History may well repeat itself. You will understand, sir, that I have a reputation to sustain as a man of science -- a reputation which you have been good enough to describe as European, though I have every reason to believe that it is not less conspicuous in America. Caution is a scientific attribute, and you must show us your proofs before we can seriously consider your claims.'
Nemor cast a particularly malignant glance from the yellow eyes at my companion, but the smile of affected geniality broadened his face.
'You live up to your reputation, Professor. I had always heard that you were the last man in the world who could be deceived. I am prepared to give you an actual demonstration which cannot fail to convince you, but before we proceed to that I must say a few words upon the general principle.
'You will realize that the experimental plant which I have erected here in my laboratory is a mere model, though within its limits it acts most admirably. There would be no possible difficulty, for example, in disintegrating you and reassembling you, but it is not for such a purpose as that that a great Government is prepared to pay a price which runs into millions. My model is a mere scientific toy. It is only when the same force is invoked upon a large scale that enormous practical effects could be achieved.'
'May we see this model?'
'You will not only see it, Professor Challenger, but you will have the most conclusive demonstration possible upon your own person, if you have the courage to submit to it.'
'If!' the lion began to roar. 'Your "if," sir, is in the highest degree offensive.'
'Well, well. I had no intention to dispute your courage. I will only say that I will give you an opportunity to demonstrate It. But I would first say a few words upon the underlying laws which govern the matter.
'When certain crystals, salt, for example, or sugar, are placed in water they dissolve and disappear. You would not know that they have ever been there. Then by evaporation or otherwise you lessen the amount of water, and lo! there are your crystals again, visible once more and the same as before.