They do all they can to hold him back for his colleagues hate him like poison, but a lot of trawlers might as well try to hold back the Berengaria. He simply ignores them and steams on his way.'
'Well,' said I, 'one thing is clear. I don't want to have anything to do with him. I'll cancel that appointment.'
'Not a bit of it. You will keep it to the minute--and mind that it is to the minute or you will hear of it.'
'Why should I?'
'Well, I'll tell you. First of all, don't take too seriously what I have said about old Challenger. Everyone who gets close to him learns to love him. There is no real harm in the old bear. Why, I remember how he carried an Indian baby with the smallpox on his back for a hundred miles from the back country down to the Madeira river. He is big every way. He won't hurt if you get right with him.'
'I won't give him the chance.'
'You will be a fool if you don't. Have you ever heard of the Hengist Down Mystery--the shaft-sinking on the South Coast?'
'Some secret coal-mining exploration, I understand.'
Malone winked. 'Well, you can put it down as that if you like. You see, I am in the old man's confidence, and I can't say anything until he gives the word. But I may tell you this, for it has been in the Press. A man, Betterton, who made his money in rubber, left his whole estate to Challenger some years ago, with the provision that it should be used in the interests of science. It proved to be an enormous sum-- several millions. Challenger then bought a property at Hengist Down, in Sussex. It was worthless land on the north edge of the chalk country, and he got a large tract of it, which he wired off. There was a deep gully in the middle of it. Here he began to make an excavation. He announced'--here Malone winked again--'that there was petroleum in England and that he meant to prove it. He built a little model village with a colony of well-paid workers who are all sworn to keep their mouths shut. The gully is wired off as well as the estate, and the place is guarded by bloodhounds. Several pressmen have nearly lost their lives, to say nothing of the seats of their trousers, from these creatures. It's a big operation, and Sir Thomas Morden's firm has it in hand, but they also are sworn to secrecy. Clearly the time has come when Artesian help is needed. Now, would you not be foolish to refuse such a job as that, with all the interest and experience and a big fat cheque at the end of it--to say nothing of rubbing shoulders with the most wonderful man you have ever met or are ever likely to meet?'
Malone's arguments prevailed, and Friday morning found me on my way to Enmore Gardens, I took such particular care to be in time that I found myself at the door twenty minutes too soon. I was waiting in the street when it struck me that I recognized the Rolls- Royce with the silver arrow mascot at the door. It was certainly that of Jack Devonshire, the junior partner of the great Morden firm. I had always known him as the most urbane of men, so that it was rather a shock to me when he suddenly appeared, and standing outside the door he raised both his hands, to heaven and said with great fervour: 'Damn him! Oh, damn him!'
'What is up, Jack? You seem peeved this morning.'
'Hullo, Peerless! Are you in on this job, too?'
'There seems a chance of it.'
'Well, you find it chastening to the temper.'
'Rather more so than yours can stand, apparently.'
'Well, I should say so. The butler's message to me was: "The Professor desired me to say, sir, that he was rather busy at present eating an egg, and that if you would call at some more convenient time he would very likely see you." That was the message delivered by a servant. I may add that I had called to collect forty-two thousand pounds that he owes us.'
'You can't get your money?'
'Oh, yes, he is all right about money. I'll do the old gorilla the justice to say that he is open- handed with money. But he pays when he likes and how he likes, and he cares for nobody.