It was unfortunately lost with so much else in the same boat accident which ruined my photographs.
I clutched at it as it disappeared in the swirl of the rapids, and part of its wing was left in my hand.
I was insensible when washed ashore, but the miserable remnant of my superb specimen was still intact; I now lay it before you."
From a drawer he produced what seemed to me to be the upper portion of the wing of a large bat.
It was at least two feet in length, a curved bone, with a membranous veil beneath it.
"A monstrous bat!" I suggested.
"Nothing of the sort," said the Professor, severely.
"Living, as I do, in an educated and scientific atmosphere, I could not have conceived that the first principles of zoology were so little known.
Is it possible that you do not know the elementary fact in comparative anatomy, that the wing of a bird is really the forearm, while the wing of a bat consists of three elongated fingers with membranes between?
Now, in this case, the bone is certainly not the forearm, and you can see for yourself that this is a single membrane hanging upon a single bone, and therefore that it cannot belong to a bat.
But if it is neither bird nor bat, what is it?"
My small stock of knowledge was exhausted.
"I really do not know," said I.
He opened the standard work to which he had already referred me.
"Here," said he, pointing to the picture of an extraordinary flying monster, "is an excellent reproduction of the dimorphodon, or pterodactyl, a flying reptile of the Jurassic period. On the next page is a diagram of the mechanism of its wing.
Kindly compare it with the specimen in your hand."
A wave of amazement passed over me as I looked.
I was convinced.
There could be no getting away from it.
The cumulative proof was overwhelming.
The sketch, the photographs, the narrative, and now the actual specimen—the evidence was complete.
I said so—I said so warmly, for I felt that the Professor was an ill-used man.
He leaned back in his chair with drooping eyelids and a tolerant smile, basking in this sudden gleam of sunshine.
"It's just the very biggest thing that I ever heard of!" said I, though it was my journalistic rather than my scientific enthusiasm that was roused.
"It is colossal.
You are a Columbus of science who has discovered a lost world.
I'm awfully sorry if I seemed to doubt you.
It was all so unthinkable.
But I understand evidence when I see it, and this should be good enough for anyone."
The Professor purred with satisfaction.
"And then, sir, what did you do next?"
"It was the wet season, Mr. Malone, and my stores were exhausted.
I explored some portion of this huge cliff, but I was unable to find any way to scale it.
The pyramidal rock upon which I saw and shot the pterodactyl was more accessible.
Being something of a cragsman, I did manage to get half way to the top of that.
From that height I had a better idea of the plateau upon the top of the crags.
It appeared to be very large; neither to east nor to west could I see any end to the vista of green-capped cliffs.
Below, it is a swampy, jungly region, full of snakes, insects, and fever.
It is a natural protection to this singular country."
"Did you see any other trace of life?"
"No, sir, I did not; but during the week that we lay encamped at the base of the cliff we heard some very strange noises from above."
"But the creature that the American drew?
How do you account for that?"
"We can only suppose that he must have made his way to the summit and seen it there.
We know, therefore, that there is a way up.
We know equally that it must be a very difficult one, otherwise the creatures would have come down and overrun the surrounding country.
Surely that is clear?"
"But how did they come to be there?"
"I do not think that the problem is a very obscure one," said the Professor; "there can only be one explanation.
South America is, as you may have heard, a granite continent.