It is a wet, foggy morning in the late spring; a thin, cold rain is falling.
Three shining mackintoshed figures are walking down the quay, making for the gang-plank of the great liner from which the blue-peter is flying.
In front of them a porter pushes a trolley piled high with trunks, wraps, and gun-cases.
Professor Summerlee, a long, melancholy figure, walks with dragging steps and drooping head, as one who is already profoundly sorry for himself.
Lord John Roxton steps briskly, and his thin, eager face beams forth between his hunting-cap and his muffler.
As for myself, I am glad to have got the bustling days of preparation and the pangs of leave-taking behind me, and I have no doubt that I show it in my bearing.
Suddenly, just as we reach the vessel, there is a shout behind us.
It is Professor Challenger, who had promised to see us off.
He runs after us, a puffing, red-faced, irascible figure.
"No thank you," says he;
"I should much prefer not to go aboard.
I have only a few words to say to you, and they can very well be said where we are.
I beg you not to imagine that I am in any way indebted to you for making this journey.
I would have you to understand that it is a matter of perfect indifference to me, and I refuse to entertain the most remote sense of personal obligation.
Truth is truth, and nothing which you can report can affect it in any way, though it may excite the emotions and allay the curiosity of a number of very ineffectual people.
My directions for your instruction and guidance are in this sealed envelope.
You will open it when you reach a town upon the Amazon which is called Manaos, but not until the date and hour which is marked upon the outside.
Have I made myself clear?
I leave the strict observance of my conditions entirely to your honor.
No, Mr. Malone, I will place no restriction upon your correspondence, since the ventilation of the facts is the object of your journey; but I demand that you shall give no particulars as to your exact destination, and that nothing be actually published until your return.
You have done something to mitigate my feelings for the loathsome profession to which you unhappily belong.
Good-bye, Lord John.
Science is, as I understand, a sealed book to you; but you may congratulate yourself upon the hunting-field which awaits you.
You will, no doubt, have the opportunity of describing in the Field how you brought down the rocketing dimorphodon.
And good-bye to you also, Professor Summerlee.
If you are still capable of self-improvement, of which I am frankly unconvinced, you will surely return to London a wiser man."
So he turned upon his heel, and a minute later from the deck I could see his short, squat figure bobbing about in the distance as he made his way back to his train.
Well, we are well down Channel now.
There's the last bell for letters, and it's good-bye to the pilot.
We'll be "down, hull-down, on the old trail" from now on.
God bless all we leave behind us, and send us safely back.
CHAPTER VII "To-morrow we Disappear into the Unknown"
I will not bore those whom this narrative may reach by an account of our luxurious voyage upon the Booth liner, nor will I tell of our week's stay at Para (save that I should wish to acknowledge the great kindness of the Pereira da Pinta Company in helping us to get together our equipment).
I will also allude very briefly to our river journey, up a wide, slow-moving, clay-tinted stream, in a steamer which was little smaller than that which had carried us across the Atlantic.
Eventually we found ourselves through the narrows of Obidos and reached the town of Manaos.
Here we were rescued from the limited attractions of the local inn by Mr. Shortman, the representative of the British and Brazilian Trading Company.
In his hospital Fazenda we spent our time until the day when we were empowered to open the letter of instructions given to us by Professor Challenger.
Before I reach the surprising events of that date I would desire to give a clearer sketch of my comrades in this enterprise, and of the associates whom we had already gathered together in South America.
I speak freely, and I leave the use of my material to your own discretion, Mr. McArdle, since it is through your hands that this report must pass before it reaches the world.
The scientific attainments of Professor Summerlee are too well known for me to trouble to recapitulate them.
He is better equipped for a rough expedition of this sort than one would imagine at first sight.
His tall, gaunt, stringy figure is insensible to fatigue, and his dry, half-sarcastic, and often wholly unsympathetic manner is uninfluenced by any change in his surroundings.
Though in his sixty-sixth year, I have never heard him express any dissatisfaction at the occasional hardships which we have had to encounter.
I had regarded his presence as an encumbrance to the expedition, but, as a matter of fact, I am now well convinced that his power of endurance is as great as my own.
In temper he is naturally acid and sceptical.
From the beginning he has never concealed his belief that Professor Challenger is an absolute fraud, that we are all embarked upon an absurd wild-goose chase and that we are likely to reap nothing but disappointment and danger in South America, and corresponding ridicule in England.
Such are the views which, with much passionate distortion of his thin features and wagging of his thin, goat-like beard, he poured into our ears all the way from Southampton to Manaos.
Since landing from the boat he has obtained some consolation from the beauty and variety of the insect and bird life around him, for he is absolutely whole-hearted in his devotion to science.
He spends his days flitting through the woods with his shot-gun and his butterfly-net, and his evenings in mounting the many specimens he has acquired.