However, you go and try your luck and see how you like it.' With that he flung himself into his motor and was off.
I waited with occasional glances at my watch until the zero hour should arrive. I am, if I may say so, a fairly hefty individual, and a runner-up for the Belsize Boxing Club middle-weights, but I have never faced an interview with such trepidation as this. It was not physical, for I was confident I could hold my own if this inspired lunatic should attack me, but it was a mixture of feelings in which fear of some public scandal and dread of losing a lucrative contract were mingled. However, things are always easier when imagination ceases and action begins. I snapped up my watch and made for the door.
It was opened by an old wooden-faced butler, a man who bore an expression, or an absence of expression, which gave the impression that he was so inured to shocks that nothing on earth would surprise him.
'By appointment, sir?' he asked.
He glanced at a list in his hand.
'Your name, sir?... Quite so, Mr. Peerless Jones.... Ten-thirty. Everything is in order. We have to be careful, Mr. Jones, for we are much annoyed by journalists. The Professor, as you may be aware, does not approve of the Press. This way, sir. Professor Challenger is now receiving.'
The next instant I found myself in the presence. I believe that my friend, Ted Malone, has described the man in his 'Lost World' yarn better than I can hope to do, so I'll leave it at that. All I was aware of was a huge trunk of a man behind a mahogany desk, with a great spade-shaped black beard and two large grey eyes half covered with insolent drooping eyelids. His big head sloped back, his beard bristled forward, and his whole appearance conveyed one single impression of arrogant intolerance. 'Well, what the devil do you want?' was written all over him. I laid my card on the table.
'Ah yes,' he said, picking it up and handling it as if he disliked the smell of it. 'Of course. You are the expert so-called. Mr. Jones-- Mr. Peerless Jones. You may thank your godfather, Mr. Jones, for it was this ludicrous prefix which first drew my attention to you.'
'I am here, Professor Challenger, for a business interview and not to discuss my own name,' said I, with all the dignity I could master.
'Dear me, you seem to be a very touchy person, Mr. Jones. Your nerves are in a highly irritable condition. We must walk warily in dealing with you, Mr. Jones. Pray sit down and compose yourself. I have been reading your little brochure upon the reclaiming of the Sinai Peninsula. Did you write it yourself?'
'Naturally, sir. My name is on it.'
'Quite so! Quite so! But it does not always follow, does it? However, I am prepared to accept your assertion. The book is not without merit of a sort. Beneath the dullness of the diction one gets glimpses of an occasional idea. There are germs of thought here and there. Are you a married man?'
'No, sir. I am not. '
'Then there is some chance of your keeping a secret. '
'If I promised to do so, I would certainly keep my promise. 'So you say. My young friend, Malone'--he spoke as if Ted were ten years of age--'has a good opinion of you. He says that I may trust you. This trust is a very great one, for I am engaged just now in one of the greatest experiments--I may even say the greatest experiment --in the history of the world. I ask for your participation.'
'I shall be honoured.'
'It is indeed an honour. I will admit that I should have shared my labours with no one were it not that the gigantic nature of the undertaking calls for the highest technical skill. Now, Mr. Jones, having obtained your promise of inviolable secrecy, I come down to the essential point. It is this--that the world upon which we live is itself a living organism, endowed, as I believe, with a circulation, a respiration, and a nervous system of its own.' Clearly the man was a lunatic.
'Your brain, I observe,' he continued, 'fails to register. But it will gradually absorb the idea.