He smiled serenely.
"Try the next page," said he.
I was still unable to sympathize.
It was a full-page sketch of a landscape roughly tinted in color—the kind of painting which an open-air artist takes as a guide to a future more elaborate effort.
There was a pale-green foreground of feathery vegetation, which sloped upwards and ended in a line of cliffs dark red in color, and curiously ribbed like some basaltic formations which I have seen.
They extended in an unbroken wall right across the background.
At one point was an isolated pyramidal rock, crowned by a great tree, which appeared to be separated by a cleft from the main crag.
Behind it all, a blue tropical sky.
A thin green line of vegetation fringed the summit of the ruddy cliff.
"Well?" he asked.
"It is no doubt a curious formation," said I "but I am not geologist enough to say that it is wonderful."
"Wonderful!" he repeated.
"It is unique.
It is incredible.
No one on earth has ever dreamed of such a possibility.
Now the next."
I turned it over, and gave an exclamation of surprise.
There was a full-page picture of the most extraordinary creature that I had ever seen.
It was the wild dream of an opium smoker, a vision of delirium.
The head was like that of a fowl, the body that of a bloated lizard, the trailing tail was furnished with upward-turned spikes, and the curved back was edged with a high serrated fringe, which looked like a dozen cocks' wattles placed behind each other.
In front of this creature was an absurd mannikin, or dwarf, in human form, who stood staring at it.
"Well, what do you think of that?" cried the Professor, rubbing his hands with an air of triumph.
"It is monstrous—grotesque."
"But what made him draw such an animal?"
"Trade gin, I should think."
"Oh, that's the best explanation you can give, is it?"
"Well, sir, what is yours?"
"The obvious one that the creature exists.
That is actually sketched from the life."
I should have laughed only that I had a vision of our doing another Catharine-wheel down the passage.
"No doubt," said I, "no doubt," as one humors an imbecile.
"I confess, however," I added, "that this tiny human figure puzzles me.
If it were an Indian we could set it down as evidence of some pigmy race in America, but it appears to be a European in a sun-hat."
The Professor snorted like an angry buffalo.
"You really touch the limit," said he. "You enlarge my view of the possible.
Cerebral paresis! Mental inertia!
He was too absurd to make me angry.
Indeed, it was a waste of energy, for if you were going to be angry with this man you would be angry all the time.
I contented myself with smiling wearily.
"It struck me that the man was small," said I.
"Look here!" he cried, leaning forward and dabbing a great hairy sausage of a finger on to the picture.
"You see that plant behind the animal; I suppose you thought it was a dandelion or a Brussels sprout—what?
Well, it is a vegetable ivory palm, and they run to about fifty or sixty feet.
Don't you see that the man is put in for a purpose?
He couldn't really have stood in front of that brute and lived to draw it.
He sketched himself in to give a scale of heights.
He was, we will say, over five feet high.
The tree is ten times bigger, which is what one would expect."
"Good heavens!" I cried.