Now, here's something that would do for you."
He took out a beautiful brown-and-silver rifle.
"Well rubbered at the stock, sharply sighted, five cartridges to the clip.
You can trust your life to that."
He handed it to me and closed the door of his oak cabinet.
"By the way," he continued, coming back to his chair, "what do you know of this Professor Challenger?"
"I never saw him till to-day."
"Well, neither did I.
It's funny we should both sail under sealed orders from a man we don't know.
He seemed an uppish old bird. His brothers of science don't seem too fond of him, either.
How came you to take an interest in the affair?"
I told him shortly my experiences of the morning, and he listened intently.
Then he drew out a map of South America and laid it on the table.
"I believe every single word he said to you was the truth," said he, earnestly, "and, mind you, I have something to go on when I speak like that.
South America is a place I love, and I think, if you take it right through from Darien to Fuego, it's the grandest, richest, most wonderful bit of earth upon this planet.
People don't know it yet, and don't realize what it may become.
I've been up an' down it from end to end, and had two dry seasons in those very parts, as I told you when I spoke of the war I made on the slave-dealers.
Well, when I was up there I heard some yarns of the same kind—traditions of Indians and the like, but with somethin' behind them, no doubt.
The more you knew of that country, young fellah, the more you would understand that anythin' was possible—ANYTHIN'!
There are just some narrow water-lanes along which folk travel, and outside that it is all darkness.
Now, down here in the Matto Grande"—he swept his cigar over a part of the map—"or up in this corner where three countries meet, nothin' would surprise me.
As that chap said to-night, there are fifty-thousand miles of water-way runnin' through a forest that is very near the size of Europe.
You and I could be as far away from each other as Scotland is from Constantinople, and yet each of us be in the same great Brazilian forest.
Man has just made a track here and a scrape there in the maze.
Why, the river rises and falls the best part of forty feet, and half the country is a morass that you can't pass over.
Why shouldn't somethin' new and wonderful lie in such a country?
And why shouldn't we be the men to find it out?
Besides," he added, his queer, gaunt face shining with delight, "there's a sportin' risk in every mile of it.
I'm like an old golf-ball—I've had all the white paint knocked off me long ago. Life can whack me about now, and it can't leave a mark.
But a sportin' risk, young fellah, that's the salt of existence.
Then it's worth livin' again.
We're all gettin' a deal too soft and dull and comfy.
Give me the great waste lands and the wide spaces, with a gun in my fist and somethin' to look for that's worth findin'.
I've tried war and steeplechasin' and aeroplanes, but this huntin' of beasts that look like a lobster-supper dream is a brand-new sensation."
He chuckled with glee at the prospect.
Perhaps I have dwelt too long upon this new acquaintance, but he is to be my comrade for many a day, and so I have tried to set him down as I first saw him, with his quaint personality and his queer little tricks of speech and of thought.
It was only the need of getting in the account of my meeting which drew me at last from his company.
I left him seated amid his pink radiance, oiling the lock of his favorite rifle, while he still chuckled to himself at the thought of the adventures which awaited us.
It was very clear to me that if dangers lay before us I could not in all England have found a cooler head or a braver spirit with which to share them.
That night, wearied as I was after the wonderful happenings of the day, I sat late with McArdle, the news editor, explaining to him the whole situation, which he thought important enough to bring next morning before the notice of Sir George Beaumont, the chief.
It was agreed that I should write home full accounts of my adventures in the shape of successive letters to McArdle, and that these should either be edited for the Gazette as they arrived, or held back to be published later, according to the wishes of Professor Challenger, since we could not yet know what conditions he might attach to those directions which should guide us to the unknown land.
In response to a telephone inquiry, we received nothing more definite than a fulmination against the Press, ending up with the remark that if we would notify our boat he would hand us any directions which he might think it proper to give us at the moment of starting.
A second question from us failed to elicit any answer at all, save a plaintive bleat from his wife to the effect that her husband was in a very violent temper already, and that she hoped we would do nothing to make it worse.
A third attempt, later in the day, provoked a terrific crash, and a subsequent message from the Central Exchange that Professor Challenger's receiver had been shattered.
After that we abandoned all attempt at communication.
And now my patient readers, I can address you directly no longer.
From now onwards (if, indeed, any continuation of this narrative should ever reach you) it can only be through the paper which I represent.
In the hands of the editor I leave this account of the events which have led up to one of the most remarkable expeditions of all time, so that if I never return to England there shall be some record as to how the affair came about.
I am writing these last lines in the saloon of the Booth liner Francisca, and they will go back by the pilot to the keeping of Mr. McArdle.
Let me draw one last picture before I close the notebook—a picture which is the last memory of the old country which I bear away with me.