When The World Screamed - Doyle Arthur Conan - Страница 1
When The World Screamed
Arthur Conan Doyle
I HAD a vague recollection of having heard my friend Edward Malone, of the Gazette, speak of Professor Challenger, with whom he had been associated in some remarkable adventures. I am so busy, however, with my own profession, and my firm has been so overtaxed with orders, that I know little of what is going on in the world outside my own special interests. My general recollection was that Challenger has been depicted as a wild genius of a violent and intolerant disposition. I was greatly surprised to receive a business communication from him which was in the following terms:
'14 (Bis), Enmore Gardens, Kensington.
'I have occasion to engage the services of an expert in Artesian borings. I will not conceal from you that my opinion of experts is not a high one, and that I have usually found that a man who, like myself, has a well-equipped brain can take a sounder and broader view than the man who professes a special knowledge (which, alas, is so often a mere profession), and is therefore limited in his outlook. None the less, I am disposed to give you a trial. Looking down the list of Artesian authorities, a certain oddity – I had almost written absurdity – in your name attracted my attention, and I found upon inquiry that my young friend, Mr. Edward Malone, was actually acquainted with you. I am therefore writing to say that I should be glad to have an interview with you, and that if you satisfy my requirements, and my standard is no mean one, I may be inclined to put a most important matter into your hands. I can say no more at present as the matter is of extreme secrecy, which can only be discussed by word of mouth. I beg, therefore, that you will at once cancel any engagement which you may happen to have, and that you will call upon me at the above address at 10.30 in the morning of next Friday. There is a scraper as well as a mat, and Mrs. Challenger is most particular.
'I remain, Sir, as I began,
'George Edward Challenger.'
I handed this letter to my chief clerk to answer, and he informed the Professor that Mr. Peerless Jones would be glad to keep the appointment as arranged. It was a perfectly civil business note, but it began with the phrase: 'Your letter (undated) has been received.' This drew a second epistle from the Professor:
'Sir,' he said and his writing looked like a barbed wire fence – 'I observe that you animadvert upon the trifle that my letter was undated. Might I draw your attention to the fact that, as some return for a monstrous taxation, our Government is in the habit of affixing a small circular sign or stamp upon the outside on the envelope which notifies the date of posting? Should this sign be missing or illegible your remedy lies with the proper postal authorities. Meanwhile, I would ask you to confine your observations to matters which concern the business over which I consult you, and to cease to comment upon the form which my own letters may assume.
' It was clear to me that I was dealing with a lunatic, so I thought it well before I went any further in the matter to call upon my friend Malone, whom I had known since the old days when we both played Rugger for Richmond. I found him the same jolly Irishman as ever, and much amused at my first brush with Challenger.
'That's nothing, my boy,' said he. 'You'll feel as if you had been skinned alive when you have been with him five minutes. He beats the world for offensiveness.'
'But why should the world put up with it?'
'They don't. If you collected all the libel actions and all the rows and all the police-court assaults-'
'Bless you, he would think nothing of throwing you downstairs if you have a disagreement. He is a primitive cave-man in a lounge suit. I can see him with a club in one hand and a jagged bit of flint in the other. Some people are born out of their proper century, but he is born out of his millennium. He belongs to the early neolithic or thereabouts.'
'And he a professor!'
'There is the wonder of it! It's the greatest brain in Europe, with a driving force behind it that can turn all his dreams into facts. 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.'
'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.'