Had the germs of it arrived from outside upon a meteor?
It was hardly conceivable.
On the whole, the wisest man was the least dogmatic upon the point.
We could not—or at least we had not succeeded up to date in making organic life in our laboratories out of inorganic materials.
The gulf between the dead and the living was something which our chemistry could not as yet bridge.
But there was a higher and subtler chemistry of Nature, which, working with great forces over long epochs, might well produce results which were impossible for us.
There the matter must be left.
This brought the lecturer to the great ladder of animal life, beginning low down in molluscs and feeble sea creatures, then up rung by rung through reptiles and fishes, till at last we came to a kangaroo-rat, a creature which brought forth its young alive, the direct ancestor of all mammals, and presumably, therefore, of everyone in the audience. ("No, no," from a sceptical student in the back row.) If the young gentleman in the red tie who cried
"No, no," and who presumably claimed to have been hatched out of an egg, would wait upon him after the lecture, he would be glad to see such a curiosity. (Laughter.) It was strange to think that the climax of all the age-long process of Nature had been the creation of that gentleman in the red tie.
But had the process stopped?
Was this gentleman to be taken as the final type—the be-all and end-all of development?
He hoped that he would not hurt the feelings of the gentleman in the red tie if he maintained that, whatever virtues that gentleman might possess in private life, still the vast processes of the universe were not fully justified if they were to end entirely in his production.
Evolution was not a spent force, but one still working, and even greater achievements were in store.
Having thus, amid a general titter, played very prettily with his interrupter, the lecturer went back to his picture of the past, the drying of the seas, the emergence of the sand-bank, the sluggish, viscous life which lay upon their margins, the overcrowded lagoons, the tendency of the sea creatures to take refuge upon the mud-flats, the abundance of food awaiting them, their consequent enormous growth.
"Hence, ladies and gentlemen," he added, "that frightful brood of saurians which still affright our eyes when seen in the Wealden or in the Solenhofen slates, but which were fortunately extinct long before the first appearance of mankind upon this planet."
"Question!" boomed a voice from the platform.
Mr. Waldron was a strict disciplinarian with a gift of acid humor, as exemplified upon the gentleman with the red tie, which made it perilous to interrupt him.
But this interjection appeared to him so absurd that he was at a loss how to deal with it.
So looks the Shakespearean who is confronted by a rancid Baconian, or the astronomer who is assailed by a flat-earth fanatic.
He paused for a moment, and then, raising his voice, repeated slowly the words:
"Which were extinct before the coming of man."
"Question!" boomed the voice once more.
Waldron looked with amazement along the line of professors upon the platform until his eyes fell upon the figure of Challenger, who leaned back in his chair with closed eyes and an amused expression, as if he were smiling in his sleep.
"I see!" said Waldron, with a shrug.
"It is my friend Professor Challenger," and amid laughter he renewed his lecture as if this was a final explanation and no more need be said.
But the incident was far from being closed.
Whatever path the lecturer took amid the wilds of the past seemed invariably to lead him to some assertion as to extinct or prehistoric life which instantly brought the same bulls' bellow from the Professor.
The audience began to anticipate it and to roar with delight when it came.
The packed benches of students joined in, and every time Challenger's beard opened, before any sound could come forth, there was a yell of
"Question!" from a hundred voices, and an answering counter cry of
"Shame!" from as many more.
Waldron, though a hardened lecturer and a strong man, became rattled.
He hesitated, stammered, repeated himself, got snarled in a long sentence, and finally turned furiously upon the cause of his troubles.
"This is really intolerable!" he cried, glaring across the platform.
"I must ask you, Professor Challenger, to cease these ignorant and unmannerly interruptions."
There was a hush over the hall, the students rigid with delight at seeing the high gods on Olympus quarrelling among themselves.
Challenger levered his bulky figure slowly out of his chair.
"I must in turn ask you, Mr. Waldron," he said, "to cease to make assertions which are not in strict accordance with scientific fact."
The words unloosed a tempest.
"Give him a hearing!"
"Put him out!"
"Shove him off the platform!"
"Fair play!" emerged from a general roar of amusement or execration.
The chairman was on his feet flapping both his hands and bleating excitedly.
"Professor Challenger—personal—views—later," were the solid peaks above his clouds of inaudible mutter.
The interrupter bowed, smiled, stroked his beard, and relapsed into his chair.
Waldron, very flushed and warlike, continued his observations.