"A pressman!" he growled. Then with a deprecating smile: "After all, it is natural that the whole world should hasten to know what I think of such an episode."
"That can hardly be his errand," said Summerlee, "for he was on the road in his cab before ever the crisis came."
I looked at the card: "James Baxter, London Correspondent, New York Monitor."
"You'll see him?" said I.
"Oh, George! You should be kinder and more considerate to others. Surely you have learned something from what we have undergone."
He tut-tutted and shook his big, obstinate head.
"A poisonous breed! Eh, Malone? The worst weed in modern civilization, the ready tool of the quack and the hindrance of the self-respecting man! When did they ever say a good word for me?"
"When did you ever say a good word to them?" I answered. "Come, sir, this is a stranger who has made a journey to see you. I am sure that you won't be rude to him."
"Well, well," he grumbled, "you come with me and do the talking. I protest in advance against any such outrageous invasion of my private life." Muttering and mumbling, he came rolling after me like an angry and rather ill-conditioned mastiff.
The dapper young American pulled out his notebook and plunged instantly into his subject.
"I came down, sir," said he, "because our people in America would very much like to hear more about this danger which is, in your opinion, pressing upon the world."
"I know of no danger which is now pressing upon the world," Challenger answered gruffly.
The pressman looked at him in mild surprise.
"I meant, sir, the chances that the world might run into a belt of poisonous ether."
"I do not now apprehend any such danger," said Challenger.
The pressman looked even more perplexed.
"You are Professor Challenger, are you not?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; that is my name."
"I cannot understand, then, how you can say that there is no such danger. I am alluding to your own letter, published above your name in the London Times of this morning."
It was Challenger's turn to look surprised.
"This morning?" said he. "No London Times was published this morning."
"Surely, sir," said the American in mild remonstrance, "you must admit that the London Times is a daily paper." He drew out a copy from his inside pocket. "Here is the letter to which I refer."
Challenger chuckled and rubbed his hands.
"I begin to understand," said he. "So you read this letter this morning?"
"And came at once to interview me?"
"Did you observe anything unusual upon the journey down?"
"Well, to tell the truth, your people seemed more lively and generally human than I have ever seen them. The baggage man set out to tell me a funny story, and that's a new experience for me in this country."
"Why, no, sir, not that I can recall."
"Well, now, what hour did you leave Victoria?"
The American smiled.
"I came here to interview you, Professor, but it seems to be a case of `Is this nigger fishing, or is this fish niggering?' You're doing most of the work."
"It happens to interest me. Do you recall the hour?"
"Sure. It was half-past twelve."
"And you arrived?"
"At a quarter-past two."
"And you hired a cab?"
"That was so."
"How far do you suppose it is to the station?"
"Well, I should reckon the best part of two miles."
"So how long do you think it took you?"
"Well, half an hour, maybe, with that asthmatic in front."
"So it should be three o'clock?"
"Yes, or a trifle after it."
"Look at your watch."
The American did so and then stared at us in astonishment.
"Say!" he cried. "It's run down. That horse has broken every record, sure. The sun is pretty low, now that I come to look at it. Well, there's something here I don't understand."
"Have you no remembrance of anything remarkable as you came up the hill?"
"Well, I seem to recollect that I was mighty sleepy once.
It comes back to me that I wanted to say something to the driver and that I couldn't make him heed me.